Personality: Dr. Patricia Herrera

Spotlight on 2019 Collaborative Research Award winner

1/24/2020, 6 a.m.
Dr. Patricia Herrera was in college when her sense of self was expanded.

Dr. Patricia Herrera was in college when her sense of self was expanded.

The daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, Dr. Herrera spent much of her early life with only a basic grasp of herself and her heritage’s power until reading several Latinx novels during her undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College.

Discovering “how transformative it was to read stories of your own community” greatly shifted Dr. Herrera’s view of herself and the world she lived in, and set her on the road to her current role as an associate professor of theater at the University of Richmond.

“That moment when you realize who you are in relationship to society is one that I aspire to cultivate in my students,” Dr. Herrera says.

The 45-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was recognized along with her colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Texas Rio Grande, with the 2019 Collaborative Research Award from the American Society for Theatre Research for their work on a public symposium “Revolutions in Sound,” set for Feb. 28 to 29 at the University of Maryland.

The symposium, with an additional editorial forum, will bring together scholars from the United States and Canada “to explore how marginalized communities use and produce sound as a strategy of survival, resistance and radical world-making,” according to Dr. Herrera.

“This award gives me the opportunity to continue to work in a more intimate way with colleagues who are interested in pushing against the dominant historical narrative and unearthing histories that reveal the agentive nature of communities of color,” she says.

Dr. Herrera has been dedicated to this type of work for some time. She has collaborated for the last decade with UR Assistant English Professor Laura Browder, producing most recently a project called, “Civil Rights and Education in Richmond, Virginia: A Documentary Theater Project.” The two also have produced six documentary plays exploring topics and issues critical to the Commonwealth.

This isn’t the first time Dr. Herrera has won accolades for her work, and it isn’t the first award that acknowledges the professor’s deep interest in teamwork. Collaboration “opens my mind to different possibilities,” Dr. Herrera says.

She views theater as “a vehicle for social change and social action,” with the classroom serving “as a laboratory to critically explore and examine the power dynamics in our ev- eryday life, including the social institutions we belong to.”

This semester Dr. Herrera is applying that methodology to two courses she is co-teaching, “Collaborative Arts Lab: Dance, Humanities and Technology” and “Gender, Race, and Performance Across the Americas.” Both courses seek to explore the experiences of the marginalized in relation to performance and representation using dance, theater and the examination of race, gender and sexuality, with a focus on local and worldwide issues.

She’s also preparing to co-edit the journal “Performance Matters” in November, which will include academic work supported by the symposium. Her first book, “Nuyorican Feminist Performances: From the Poets Café to Hip Hop Theater” is scheduled for release in May.

It’s a sizable slate for a single year, and it all speaks to the core motivations that underpin Dr. Herrera’s work, all sparked in part by books that spurred a life of raising social awareness through education and performance.