Office of Undergraduate Research

Elsie Wang '21

Portrait of Elsie Wang.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Elsie Wang (she/her) is a East Asian Studies & Comparative Literature major conducting mentored research under Professors Hsiu-Chuang Deppman and Ann Sherif. Her project is titled “Intercultural Theatre as Embodied Liminality: The Toki Experimental Project and the Interweaving of Noh and Kunqu". 

Please describe your project: 

In this research project, I study the Toki Experimental Project as an example of Asian intercultural theatre and artists’ creative process in interweaving different performance cultures. I focus on the creative contributions of Kunqu and Noh theatre performers in developing traditional Asian performing arts and crossing national boundaries. I conduct my research through interviews with the participants of the Toki project, and I argue that the Kunqu and Noh performers enter a state of embodied liminality during the creative process which breaks the boundary between subject and object, self and other, in a physical way. The embodied liminal experience leads to the collapses of boundaries between nation-states and the building of an intercultural artistic community.

Why is your research important? 

My research project points to the significance of intercultural artistic collaboration. Because I use an interdisciplinary approach which includes methods of anthropology, performance studies, Asian studies, theatre studies, my project brings a novel perspective to multiple fields. It also draws attention to the profound meaning of intercultural theatre in post-COVID time.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

The main part of my research process is to contact artists across Asia and conduct interviews with them in multiple languages. After the interviews, I transcribed them and analyzed them along with other primary and secondary materials.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

I think the biggest contribution I made is to connect the studies on intercultural theatre of different fields together and to provide an interdisciplinary perspective on it. I develop the concept of “embodied liminality” by combining my knowledge of anthropology and performance studies together and argue for the significance of artists’ embodied experience in breaking national boundaries.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have written a thesis in the form of an ethnography. I will be doing a presentation in the senior research symposium on April 30th.

How did you get involved in research? 

Because of my interest in Asian theatre, I had a private reading with Professor Keren He on Chinese Theatre during my second year at Oberlin. In the fall of 2019, I was lucky enough to watch Noh performances on campus by the two Noh performers, Uzawa Hisa and Uzawa Hikaru, who were invited by Professor Ann Sherif to take residency at Oberlin. In January 2021, I went to Tokyo to learn Noh with the support of Shansi in-Asia grant. My long-lasting interests in Asian theatre and physical practices led me to begin working on this research.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite aspect of the research process is the interviews that I had with artists. I feel lucky that I was able to hold conversations with artists across Asia during the pandemic. It allowed me to actually engage in an intercultural conversation beyond doing a research about it.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

Both of my mentors, Professor Ann Sherif and Professor Hsiu-Chuang Deppman, gave me immense support during my research project. They helped me a lot with the theatrical framework and the organization of my arguments. Though very knowledgeable, they gave me a lot of liberty in developing my own project and showed their respect and interest in my project all the time. I’m inspired to be a scholar like them.

How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

I have gained immense intellectual growth by doing this project. The interdisciplinary approach familiarizes me with multiple disciplines and their methodologies. Doing a project on intercultural theatre during the pandemic also taught me to feel greater empathy with people in other parts of the world.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development? 

The research helped me gain a deeper understanding of Asian intercultural theatre and its potential in the future. It also enabled me to build connections with artists across Asia, which prepared me with my future professional development.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

I want to share my motto with them, “replace ambition with curiosity.” It was said by Nancy Stark Smith and shared with me by Professor Ann Cooper Albright. I will suggest them to pursue their passion without thinking too much about its result. Just enjoy it for the process!