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Journal of American Drama & Theatre





Emergent Strategy Abolitionist Pedagogy in Pandemic Time

Marissa Nicosia & Jack Isaac


Published on 

May 20, 2023

Small is good, small is all. (The large is a reflection of the small.)

Change is constant. (Be like water.)

There is always enough time for the right work.

There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.

Never a failure, always a lesson.

Trust the People. (If you trust the people, they become trustworthy.)

Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass–build the resilience by building the relationships.

Less prep, more presence.

What you pay attention to grows.

adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy [1]


In this co-authored essay, we describe and analyze the interdisciplinary course and devised theater production that we created with our undergraduate students at The Pennsylvania State University, Abington College in Spring 2022, titled “Emergent Strategy: The Winter’s Tale” and Exit, a banquet piece, respectively—their methods and content inspired by Black feminist activist adrienne maree brown’s book of the same title, as well as William Shakespeare’s play—both of which also served as core texts. brown defines emergent strategy as “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”[2] Part thick description, part manifesto, this essay details the teaching philosophies and performance strategies that we enacted, why, and to what ends, bearing brown’s growth- and change-oriented framework in mind. Paying careful attention to affect and lived experience, this essay blends academic prose with autotheory, with brief personal reflections embedded throughout. Ultimately, our goal is to make a case for the efficacy of abolitionist pedagogy in higher education—especially in this historic moment of late capitalism and the ongoing pandemic that it has produced. In a precarious world increasingly attuned to questions of racial equity, class consciousness, disability justice, harm reduction, and community care, professors and students alike, we argue, can benefit from adopting commensurable revolutions in our pedagogical work.[3]

But what does abolition mean in the context of teaching? For us, abolitionist pedagogy has meant 1) acknowledging that schools, including colleges and universities, are deeply caught up in a project of perpetuating harm, often meted unevenly onto the most marginalized students and employees; 2) knowing that the harm that schools and schooling does is animated by a carceral logic which often situates faculty in a disciplinary, punitive and/or reward-based, and surveillance role in relation to our students; 3) consciously deciding to adopt teaching philosophies, curricula, and methods aimed at shifting these power relations in and out of the classroom toward a model of care; 4) staying vigilant that our working relationships remain aligned with our politics, modeling for our students what ethical collaboration and right relationship looks like in shared leadership; 5) being committed to shifting our thinking and practices as needed.[4]

Here, it’s important to note that this framework of “abolitionist pedagogy” is partly in hindsight. When we began creating this course in December 2020, at the fore of our minds was the fact of a global pandemic that had forced us out of classrooms and onto screens—with many students and faculty variously navigating acute sickness, family emergency, burnout, depression, anxiety, addiction, technology barriers, death, grief, and financial hardship in heightened ways. While the most marginalized among us have always already been dealing with access barriers, the pandemic produced the conditions in which these issues of disparity became more mainstream discourse, and rethinking our approaches to pedagogy was urgently necessary and encouraged—including even by those institutional structures that are complicit in histories of harm.

So it was nine months into this new business as usual that we began our collaboration. Marissa was a soon-to-be tenured Associate Professor and Jack a new Assistant Professor at Penn State; we met during Jack’s campus visit when Marissa served as one of the search committee members that made the hire. As luck would have it, we soon became neighbors in South Philadelphia; pandemic walks became our way of swapping resources and cooking up ideas of courses we might teach when in-person learning would recommence. Queer, anti-racist, intersectional feminists with decades of combined teaching experience, we decided to co-teach a class that would bring together our shared research interests and center the needs of our individual students and the collective whole.[5]

For us, this meant designing a curriculum that enabled us to have explicit conversations about race, gender, labor, capitalism, trauma, and repair, as well as dramatically shifting the ways that we relate to our students and the work that they “produce.” We abolished grades (everyone gets an A, no exceptions); deadlines (the pace of our work can and will change as needed); and attendance policies (come as you are, when you can).[6] We built in “rest days,” where class did not convene. We moved at the speed of trust, adjusting lesson plans and activities on a week by week, day by day, moment by moment basis, with an eye always kept on what truly needed to happen next.

Our choice to implement ungrading, relaxed attendance, and flexible assignment timelines meant that we could center learning, self-reflection, being present together, and group process while dispensing with traditional modes of top-down surveillance—what abolitionist geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore, speaking in another context, calls acting as a “deputized cop.”[7] Make no mistake, the course was intellectually and physically rigorous, and students and faculty alike were pushed to the edges of our comfort zones. But we tried to always balance rigor with access, refusing to sacrifice our bodies and spirits in the pursuit of academic knowledge or aesthetic virtuosity.

Here, we were guided by brown’s principles of Emergent Strategy cited in the opening epigraph, as well as theologian and performance artist Tricia Hersey’s imperative that we place our bodily needs above those of capital’s. The class was a resoundingly transformative experience for the six students enrolled, as well as for us. This essay is our attempt to archive that experience, as well as a public forum in which we attempt to urge readers to consider similar transformations in their own work. 

Thursday December 3, 2020

We slip on the ice-slick sidewalks of South Philly as we walk, masked, carrying our coffees from Shot Tower. Much later, in the summer of 2021, we will spend an entire afternoon together, sitting in the sunshine outside this same coffee shop, preparing for our upcoming course. We will have brought our marked up copies of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; Elinor Fuch’s “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet”; Scott Maisano’s “Now”; and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s “Lost, or ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’: Causing Queer Children on Shakespeare’s TV”—and it will start to become clear that this is a project about time, suspended.[8] But on that Thursday at the beginning of winter, we don’t know any of this yet: we are just two new colleagues struggling to walk without falling.

When we get to Jefferson Square, we find a bench in the sun. Beside us, a streetlamp, where someone has busted open its electrical panel and plugged in a cell-phone charger block—cord dangling in the wind. We remark on the brilliance of the unhoused to tap into the city’s electrical grid for free. The conversation turns to the community refrigerators sprinkled throughout our neighborhood; our shared love of gritty Philly; the astonishingly large gap between its wealthy and its poor, but also decades of mutual aid networks aimed at resource redistribution.[9]


And the conversation broadens to collaboration. What if we brought together our shared interests in theater and temporality, adapting one of Shakespeare’s plays into an original performance that resonated with the themes of this moment? We riff on the Shakespeare plays that we like, that we love, that we feel might connect to the moment: Hamlet, Lear, Richard III. But we also carry with us some doubt about starting with a tragedy. The body count at the end of these plays does not inspire thoughts of healing or repair. We discussed an article about COVID time and time on ships, and how we are all living in wait. It brought The Tempest, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale to mind—plays that move the reader from rupture to remedy.

Winter in the Spring House

The Pennsylvania State University’s Abington College is a small (3,500 student), public, four-year, local-serving, minority majority campus in the suburbs just north of Philadelphia. Students choose Abington for a variety of reasons, but often it is because they work, live at home, or need to stay near kin. Many students have significant financial need; the majority self-identify as people of color, many of whom are immigrants or first-generation Americans; a substantial portion are international students, largely from China; more than a third are the first in their families to go to college.

But at its founding in 1850 and for the next 100 years to follow, Abington College was the “Ogontz School for Young Ladies”—a preparatory school for white, wealthy women (Amilia Earhart famously among them) on settled Lenape land. Our class convened twice weekly for three hours each in a tiny cottage called Spring House—the oldest freestanding building on campus, initially constructed to store dairy for the “girls.”[11]

When the windows of Spring House are open, you can hear the gurgle of the stream that runs through the tree-filled gorge at the center of campus. The stream also feeds an ornamental pond where geese, ducks, and blue herons swim, huddle together on the ice, and stalk in the reeds. Tucked away from the other buildings and containing only two classrooms, a bathroom, and space for silent prayer, our work in the Spring House feels distinctly removed from the bustle of the college. With its rattling, broken heaters and glitchy technology, our classroom space is somehow simultaneously cold, hot, dry, damp, sunny, shadowy, alienating, and welcoming. Through a small basement window, you can see ferns growing underneath—a greenhouse blooming beneath our feet. (We chose to see these plants as inspirational fauna thriving in the darkness rather than a dispiriting result of institutional neglect.)

We gather in the Spring House in early January 2022 and begin to study The Winter’s Tale (c.1610). Shakespeare’s tragicomedy is a work of profound loss and marvelous repair in which jealous King Leontes defies an oracle and loses his family only to reunite with his lost daughter, Perdita; wife, Queen Hermione; and beloved friend, King Polixenes, at the play’s end. The play requires a profound suspension of disbelief as extreme shifts in feeling and fortune befall its characters—a bear famously “pursues” and then devours Antigonus after he saves baby Perdita; Time arrives as Chorus to explain a sixteen-year gap between acts; a statue of Hermione comes to life. Tragedy is averted, but not forgotten, as the play explores the potential of art, and our wonder at its workings, to restore what has been lost.[12] We began the semester by reading the play out loud in its entirety, pausing frequently for clarification. Reading The Winter’s Tale together provided a foundation for discussion and aligned with our pedagogical philosophy, as we prioritized using class time for the most important labor and did not assume that students had unlimited time outside of class. Less prep, more presence.

Typically, we divied up class time such that one of us taught for 75-80 minutes, we took a break, and then the other took the lead for the second half of class. Under Marissa’s guidance, we studied the play through literary methods—practicing close reading, reading literary criticism, and conducting archival and embodied research. She introduced the working practices of Shakespeare’s theater through lecture and by getting students up on their feet to perform a scene using reconstructed cue scripts. We learned about the publication and circulation of early modern drama by handling eighteenth-century printed books and looking at the spelling and punctuation in the 1632 Second Folio of Shakespeare’s works held by the library via Zoom.[13] We drew on Marissa’s research on food and medicine to discuss humoral theory as a framework for understanding character and emotions, such as Leontes’ self-diagnosed tremor cordis, the heart-palpitations of incandescent rage.

A number of Marissa’s lessons were linked to sequenced writing assignments which asked students to focus on interpreting specific, brief passages from the play. But we jettisoned inflexible submission dates for written work as a part of “ungrading,” aware that flexibility accommodates a range of student needs in an ongoing pandemic, many of whom are just trying to get by in a culture of harm. After Marissa’s lesson on using the Oxford English Dictionary to interpret Shakespeare’s language, Jack did a little research: the etymology of “deadline” can be traced back to carceral origins, the line beyond which a fleeing prisoner would be shot if they crossed. The shift from deadlines to student-paced learning also meant that students were placed in the position of scholar/researcher in their own right, rather than producing work for us on an arbitrary timeline we have set without their consent.[14]

We paired these literary modes with dramaturgical research and embodied theater practice, facilitated by Jack. This dramaturgical research was guided by Fuchs’s foundational “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet”—which we began the semester by discussing. Rather than focus on language and character, we paid attention to how time, space, climate, mood, light, sound, color, shape, texture and other sensory clues embedded in the text informed our visceral understanding of the world of The Winter’s Tale. Students gathered images inspired by their research, tesselating the linoleum floors with found art. These images were translated into music, music into movement.[15] The aim of this work, we instructed the students, was to move us away from Shakespeare’s world and into our own—which would be best accomplished by tracing its affective outline. Adaptation was the name of the game.

So was play. We built a cohesive sense of ensemble, playing team-building games drawn from Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed arsenal and the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq. Jack led the ensemble through a codified sequence of activities derived from Lecoq’s journey of the mask, beginning with a physical exploration of the elements: water, fire, earth, air—which we did outdoors in the cold sun, wind, rain, and snow. The aim was increased embodiment, fierce wakefulness, and jeu (Lecoq’s word for the spirit of “play”) —getting actors to trust their kinesthetic impulses and one another, while learning to tell stories with their bodies.

In the studio-based context, ungrading came easily: it is common not to grade performance-based work solely on merit and customary to privilege process over product. Relaxed attedance, however, poses some challenges: a show usually needs to be made on a particular timeline; the presence of the ensemble is crucial to its cohesion; and devising requires building a consistent set of skills and aesthetic vocabulary for the work in progress. So while our theory of “intrinsic motivation” was generally successful (students genuinely cared about the class and one another, and commitment was high), the reality of their complex lives meant that occasionally we had a skeleton crew at crucial moments.[16]

We over-hired a production manager (Lisa Suzanne Turner), stage manager (Jaleel Hunter), and music director (Emily Bate)—anticipating that we would need some semblance of a production team to pull off what we imagined would be a large-scale, site-specific, outdoor performance in an institutional context with no regular production season; no production staff; no costume, prop, or scene shop; a very modest budget for theater; and a tiny ensemble.

Musician and composer Emily Bate was pivotal, working with students to create an original libretto. When Marissa got COVID, Emily and Jack were left at the helm for several weeks. When Emily got COVID, too, music rehearsals moved to Zoom: Jack holding their tiny iPhone in the outdoor amphitheater on campus with janky wifi and two, then three, then five of the six performers present for rehearsal. Change is constant. (Be like water.) And so we were.

Tuesday February 15, 2022 (Jack)

We have told the students that their assignment today is to “rest.” No reading, no writing, no class. To prepare the week prior, we invited them to lay down on the floor. Heads together, feet splayed, eyes shut, we listened to an interview with Tricia Hersey, where she discusses capitalism and anti-Blackness, and rest as resistance. Originally broadcast in June 2020, the cover image for the podcast—which we close-read with our students—features a photograph by Charlie Watts: Hersey, in glorious repose; her long, yellow gown and bright, tulle petticoat dangling leisurely from the bench on which she sleeps. Behind her, a brick façade, boarded up windows, and broken panes amidst an abandoned lot. Beneath her, rows of cotton—this urban landscape turned magical real. Hersey begins:

To not rest is really being violent towards your body. To align yourself with a system that says “Your body doesn’t belong to you, keep working. You are simply a tool for our production.” To align yourself with that is a slow spiritual death. [ . . .] When you don’t sleep, you’re literally killing your body. It’s not a dramatic over-the-top thing to say that. Our organs begin to break down.

I remember wondering what our students—primarily working class people of color with two white professors—think of our unorthodox methods, our insistence on their rejection of domination at this school largely aimed at getting them jobs. I remember taking my place on the floor, nestled between Marissa and Trim, as Hersey goes on to refer to our bodies as “divine holding places of liberation.”[17] I remember thinking that I know this is edgy for her—a Renaissance scholar with a formidable dossier and flawless professional attire, Marissa in many ways is the portrait of “Professor.” But on this day she, like the students laying on the cold linoleum beside her, was “dressed to move,” as is the culture of our course.

The following week, we regather to report back on our first day of rest. I begin by reading a short passage from Emergent Strategy, our ritual for the start of class. What are all your gifts? Are you living a life that honors all your gifts? If yes, how did you create all this possibility for yourself? If no, how can you create more possibility today? Tomorrow? This month? This year?[18] Kyleigh delights in telling the group that she took a really good nap. Aman went to the gym, and we debate the ontology of rest, of whether that kind of corporeal act constitutes labor or leisure. Madison did work and feels guilty. The only Black woman in the group, does she have the same luxury of enforced rest? We discuss.

What nobody knows is that I spent our rest day not resting at all, but on a campus visit (read: interview) at the small, private and exceedingly elite liberal arts college on the other side of town—the one whose website unabashedly refers to itself as “the most beautiful campus in the known universe.” I was tired of the mold and asbestos in our buildings, of the emails inviting students and faculty to a casual donuts and coffee with cops.

Ten months later, I will be driving home at 9pm from this very same room with the heater on the fritz—after wrapping up the semester with another group of gems—and as I pull out onto Woodland Road in the dark in the rain I will think to myself: I just can’t. I just can’t imagine telling these students I’m sorry, I’m trading you in for a better job on the other side of town.

Sunday April 10, 2022 (Marissa)

We knew that it was statistically likely that someone would get COVID during our semester together: It was me. I brought my COVID infection from Penn State Abington to an international conference in Dublin and found myself unwell, isolated, and stranded. I landed in Philadelphia less than two weeks before our scheduled performance, and just in time for our daylong retreat.

We take over the Lares Banquet Room, with windows overlooking the pond. As students arrive, I stir a pot of hot chocolate and pour cups of the heavily-spiced drink—prepared from Rebeckah Winche’s seventeenth-century recipe for “chacolet”—seasoned with vanilla, chili pepper, and cinnamon.[19] We sit in a circle and I ask what they taste: they say spice, capsaicin heat, sweetness, oiliness from the cocoa nibs. I propose that tasting historical recipes, like reading The Winter’s Tale, is a form of attenuated time travel. We discuss. Our archives contain partial knowledge of past meals, past performances. We can taste a version of “chacolet” now, even if we cannot know precisely what tasting chocolate and chili pepper—newly-imported American ingredients, prepared using a recipe grounded in Indigenous knowledge—meant to Winche in England in 1666.

The students teach me the music that they have been composing in my absence. I show them Frans Snyders’s “A Banquet-piece, c.1620”—a painting I saw at the National Gallery of Ireland the week earlier—as well as other contemporaneous still-lifes that are inspiring our scenic design. Jack guides us in rituals from the Passover haggadah—their holiday about to commence. What you pay attention to grows, and we are paying attention to food, movement, song, ritual, and paintings of tulips and fruit.

Over pizza, Jonathan tells me that my voice and breath sound different. He is worried that I’m still sick. Later, as the light fades into a glorious pink sunset, Jack, Jaleel, and I walk the possible routes that our performance might take—singing the opening song from Exit as we travel:

All you touch you change,

all you change changes you,

the only lasting truth is

change, change, change.

Adapted from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and invoked on the first page of brown’s book, these lines had become a kind of anthem—first metaphorical, now literal—for our group.[20]

I stop singing. I’m short of breath. My chest hurts. My lungs can’t handle singing and walking in the cold air.

April 21, 2022

It is a beautiful day in early spring; the campus is abuzz with another semester almost done. Audience members have been instructed to meet on the plaza outside the Sutherland Building—the one with Chief Ogontz eerily chiseled into stone above the door. Marissa and Jack make small-talk with guests: the dean and chancellor among them. An unassuming white, folding table—the kind on every college campus—is littered with COVID waivers and percussives: maracas, egg shakers, a xylophone. Jaleel, in black slacks and shirt and a bright orange durag that matches the glittery streaks above his eyes, greets us one by one—handing out instruments to those of us willing to play. An actor (Madison Branch), also in black with burgundy accents around her eyes, stands expectantly under the public clock on the other side of the lawn. She introduces herself to us as “Time” and teaches us a song: “All you touch you change . . . ” We follow her, playing our instruments and singing in rounds. At the top of a hill, we glimpse a vast, green field: a banquet in the distance. We hear a drum, voices. We approach. Beneath a line of tall pines, long tables are draped in white linen and laden with flowers and fruit. Our voices join with the drums and the voices of the performers, who welcome us to their feast.

Exit, a banquet piece is a site-specific, immersive performance with live music, song, monologue, ritual, and a community meal. In its conceit, it begins in the moments just after the action of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale has ended. In the last lines of the play, Leontes invites recollection:

Good Paulina,

Lead us from hence, where we may leisurely

Each one demand and answer to his part

Performed in this wide gap of time since first

We were dissevered. Hastily lead away.

They exit. (5.3.188-192)

Exit, a banquet piece accepts Leontes’s invitation for “each” member the ensemble to share their story of the “wide gap of time”—all that has happened in the time they have been apart, “dissevered.”

To the beat of Polixenes’s drum (Jonathan Bercovici), each performer tells their story in turn: my name is Polixenes and I am the hunted man; my name is Hermione and I am the accused woman; my name is Leontes and I am the regretful man; my name is Perdita and I am the queer child; my name is Florizel and I am the lover; my name is Time and I am the seer—their monologues filling the spring air, the rest of the chorus chanting underneath. The ensemble then leads the audience in a series of healing rituals, inspired, in part, by the Passover seder (it is the 7th night). Hermione (Kyleigh Byers) invites us wash our neighbors’ hands with water blessed by the light of the full moon, while Florziel (George Ye)—in a deep green cape—plays a haunting melody on the xylophone. Birds chirp, geese honk and soar overhead. At Leontes’s command (Aman Zabian), we name the things that plague us, dipping our pinkies into our wine-filled cups and tapping them on our plates: the war in Ukraine, racism at home, patriarchy, student debt, addiction, COVID-19. Perdita (Trim Walker) asks us to toast the things we want more of: we say love, joy, learning. Night falls; music swells; the Ramandan fast has concluded for another day: we feast.


Students Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Trim Walker, George Ye, and Aman Zabian perform their monologues in Exit, a banquet piece.



Audience members of diverse backgrounds share their personal narratives of the pandemic with one another. Ritual devised and led by the student ensemble.



George Ye performs a solo on the xylophone as Kyleigh Byers leads audience members in a handwashing ritual. Original score written by Ye.



Madison Branch as Time (foreground), Jonathan Bercovici as Polixenes, Aman Zabian as Leontes; Kyleigh Byers as Hermione, Trim Walker as Perdita, and George Ye as Florizel in Exit, a banquet piece.


Audiences perform a ritual inspired by the Passover Seder, naming contemporary “plagues” that harm them, while marking their plates with droplets of wine.


Production Manager Lisa Suzanne Turner (left) and Stage Manager Jaleel Hunter (bottom, right) sit with audience members in a moment of silence. Audience members were comprised of faculty, staff, students, and the local community. Photo credit: Mendal Diana Polish

Thursday May 19, 2022 (Marissa)

I wanted time to stop as I sat in that field and listened to the students sing. I wanted time to stop as I named the things that plague me, named the things that I want more of in my life. I wanted time to stop as I looked at the tulips, fruit, objects, and place-settings on the banquet tables that I had arranged like a Renaissance still life. I wanted time to stop as water poured over hands, music and birdsong filled the field. I wanted to linger. I wanted to dilate that moment of joy, release, pride, and beauty. I wanted time to stop.

But of course, time is relentless; performance “can never be captured or transmitted through the archive”; and “the only lasting truth is change.”[21]

Nevertheless, I attempted to preserve the fleeting moment. I brought home the clementines that adorned the set and baked with them, transforming the performance into a cake.[22] I served it at our final class meeting as a way of saying I love you all so much, to say that I wanted time to stop.

It was a temporary solution: We devoured the cake.

Thursday April 28, 2022 (Jack)

In our final class meeting, we form two concentric circles, inside facing out. Eye to eye, toe to toe, everyone is given three prompts to answer (before rotating to the next partner):

What is my impact in the world?

In three words, what am I embodying?

Where do you think I could grow?[23]

I am facilitating, so I don’t play, except for the round when someone steps out into the sun.

For that brief moment, I face Marissa, struggling to find the words. I say something about her learning to integrate the work of the mind and the fact of the body in answering prompt number three. And she says something about my inextinguishable fire, about learning to cool, or direct, my flames. Indeed. Like Leontes, I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances, but not for joy.

I’m not alone. Enraged by injustice, hot with desire, aren’t we all just learning how to direct the storms of our fires toward healing and justice for all?

And isn’t performance always the work of the mind and the fact of the body brought together in the service of this?

We carpool home, Broad Street all the way. Past the storefront churches and the mattress stores and Temple University and City Hall.

When we get to South Philly, where I no longer live, Marissa and I part ways. “We did something really special,” she says, and we hug awkwardly in the car.

Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build resilience by building the relationships. At the heart of this course was our collaboration—a site where we modeled for our students how to move at the speed of trust. In many ways, we are incredibly different—as teachers, as artists, as scholars trained in distinct fields. But we agreed for four months to align our joint pedagogy with our shared politics and see what that might stir.

Marissa is on sabbatical now, and I continue to teach at the former school for girls. I have carried on in our tradition of abolition: no grades, no deadlines, no attendance policies—which shares the Greek and Latin root, of course—politia—with “police.” I have continued with rest days, and, to the extent possible, decentering my authority in the room (which, quite possibly, sometimes reifies it; it’s hard to say for sure, but they know I care). And it’s not yet clear if I will stay for the long haul; but then again, it’s also not clear if the academy, the nation, or the planet will. So while we wait, and work, and wonder, I’m going to go ahead and place my bet on emergent strategy and/as abolitionist pedagogy for these pandemic times, and beyond—as the best we’ve got for figuring out, together, how we might get free.[24]


[1] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Chico: AK Press, 2017), pp. 41-42.

[2] Ibid, p. 3.

[3] For more on care work, see Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (Vancouver, B.C.: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018). For a great introduction to abolitionist pedagogy, see Sujani Reddy, “School is a Tracking Device: On Deschooling as Abolitionist Practice,” March 9, 2019 THIS IS HELL!, produced by mixlr, podcast,; see also Reddy’s chapter of the same title in the anthology Abolitioning Carceral Society (Brooklyn: Common Notions, 2018). Thank you to Sujani Reddy for her correspondence about pedagogy and abolition over the years.

[4] After the screening of Brett Story’s stunning documentary film, The Prison in 12 Landscapes (2016) at the Lightbox Film Center in Philadelphia in December 2022, Robert Saleem Holbrook, the Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, made the important distinction between decarceration and abolition. Decarceration, he noted, is dedicated to eradicating all prisons and freeing all captive people. Abolition, however, takes this project one step further: aiming to abolish all systems of oppression that uphold a carceral logic. This includes prisons, police, policing, police unions, surveillance and corrections technology and businesses that produce them, jails, detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, immigration and customs enforcement (ICE), and the nation-state itself. Thank you to Lindsay Reckson for bringing this film to our attention and for being a co-conspirator in abolitionist pedagogy more generally.

[5] We have each taught in a range of institutional contexts prior to our positions at Penn State, including public and private R1s and R2s, small liberal arts colleges, art schools, and the Ivy League. Marissa began teaching as a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania; an adjunct at the University of the Arts; and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Scripps College. Jack first taught at the University of Texas at Austin as an M.A. and Ph.D. student; then a Visiting Assistant Professor at Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Northern Arizona University, and Haverford College; before beginning the tenure-track at Reed College, followed by Penn State.

[6] We modeled our syllabus language on Jesse Stommel, “Compassionate Grading Policies,” Jesse Stommel January 3, 2022; See also Asao Inoue, Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom (Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse, 2019); Alfie Kohn, “The Case Against Grades,” Educational Leadership

[7] Chenjerai Kumanyika, “Ruth Wilson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition,” June 10, 2020  Intercepted, produced by The Intercept, podcast,; see also Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s forthcoming Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2023).

[8] Elinor Fuchs, “EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play,” in Theater, no. 34 (2) (2004): 5-9; Scott Maisano, “Now,” in Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 368-85; Kathryn Bond Stockton, “Lost, or ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’: Causing Queer Children on Shakespeare’s TV,” in Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by Madhavi Menon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. 421-428.

[9] For a good primer on mutual aid, see Dean Spade, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (New York: Verso Books, 2020).

[10] Jack Isaac Pryor, Time Slips: Queer Temporalities, Contemporary Performance, and the Hole of History (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017); Marissa Nicosia, Imagining Time in the English Chronicle Play: Historical Futures, 1590-1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023).

[11] “Historic Abington Campus,” Penn State Abington History Program

[12] This framing of the play owes debts to Marissa’s undergraduate mentor and his scholarship. Peter Platt, Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvelous (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), esp. pp. 153-168).

[13] William Shakespeare, Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. (London, 1632). Eberly Family Special Collections, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, PR2751.A2 1632 Q.

[14] “dead-line, n.” OED Online. December 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed (accessed December 22, 2022); see also Heather Froehlich, Marissa Nicosia, and Christina Riehman-Murphy, “Transcribing Recipe Manuscripts Online: V.b.380 and the ‘What’s in a Recipe?’ Undergraduate Research Project at Penn State Abington.” Early Modern Studies Journal 8(2022).

[15] The physical theater work that we did in class was informed by Jack’s training with director Anne Bogart/the SITI Company and choreographer Rosie Herrera/Rosie Herrera Dance Theater, as well as Pig Iron Theater Company and The Padova Arts Academy (Paola Coletto) where they trained in Lecoq.

[16] The idea of complex lives is informed by Avery Gordon’s notion of “the right to complex personhood,” which she discusses in Ghostly Matters: Haunting and Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p. 4).

[17] “Tricia Hersey on Rest as Resistance,” June 8, 2020 for the wild, produced by Ayana Young, podcast,; see also, Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (New York: Little, Brown, 2022).

[18] See brown, p. 190.

[19] Marissa Nicosia, “Chacolet from Rebeckah Winche’s Receipt Book at the Folger Shakespeare Library” Cooking in the Archives January 28, 2016

[20] Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1993), p. 3; brown, p. 1.

[21] Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 20.

[22] Earlier in the semester, Jack had suggested that Marissa try this recipe. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, “Clementine & almond syrup cake” Jerusalem (London: Ebury, 2012), p. 294.

[23] See brown, p. 185.

[24] This notion of “how we get free” is inspired by the Combahee River Collective anthology; see Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, ed., How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).  

About The Authors

Marissa Nicosia is Associate Professor of Renaissance Literature at The Pennsylvania State University-Abington College. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Marissa’s first monograph, Imagining Time in the English Chronicle Play: Historical Futures, 1590-1660, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2023. She co-edited the collection, Making Milton: Print, Authorship, Afterlives (Oxford University Press, 2021), with Emma Depledge and John S. Garrison. In 2019, she co-edited a special issue of Explorations in Renaissance Culture on Renaissance Futures with John S. Garrison. She has published articles on Renaissance literature, temporality, food culture, and book history and manuscript studies. Marissa runs the public food history website Cooking in the Archives (

Jack Isaac Pryor is Assistant Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at The Pennsylvania State University-Abington College. They received their Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Their first book, Time Slips: Queer Temporalities, Contemporary Performance, and the Hole of History (2017), was published by Northwestern University Press and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Studies. Jack is currently co-editing the collection, Transfixt: Transgender Aesthetics at the Tipping Point, with Jules Rosskam and a special issue of Studies in Musical Theatre with Stacy Wolf (Sondheim from the Side, forthcoming 2023). They have published essays on pedagogy, queer temporality, minoritarian performance and visual culture, sex, state violence, and experimental modes of art and cultural criticism. Jack is also a director and devised theater maker. (

JADT publishes thoughtful and innovative work by leading scholars on theatre, drama, and performance in the Americas – past and present. Provocative articles provide valuable insight and information on the heritage of American theatre, as well as its continuing contribution to world literature and the performing arts. Founded in 1989 and previously edited by Professors Vera Mowry Roberts, Jane Bowers, and David Savran, this widely acclaimed peer reviewed journal is now edited by Dr. Benjamin Gillespie and Dr. Bess Rowen.

Journal of American Drama and Theatre is a publication of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.

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