050: What’s the context? Dramaturg Alex Ripp unpacks public performance, translation, and arts criticism

What’s more important than context? This candid conversation with dramaturg Alex Ripp ranges far and wide — from making art in the Triangle to art making in Chile, interdisciplinary work, artists and the academy, and most especially, new ways to engage with audience members, arts writers and arts practitioners.

Alex Ripp is the Andrew W. Mellon DisTIL Postdoctoral Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts, where she oversees multi-semester artist residencies for collaborative research with faculty and is a lecturer in UNC’s American Studies department. Alex holds an MFA and DFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the Yale School of Drama, where she wrote a dissertation on contemporary Chilean theater and memory politics. Alex has served as an Associate Editor at Yale’s Theater magazine and has published reviews, translations and articles in Performing Arts Journal, Theater Journal, Theater magazine, and Fusebox’s Written and Spoken. She has contributed three translations of contemporary Chilean plays, on commission by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, to subtitle the shows’ U.S. tours, and her translation of Trinidad González’s La Reunión was chosen for performance at the PEN International World Voices Festival in 2015. Alex has also served as producer and then curator of the “Ideas” series of multidisciplinary talks and panels at New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, through which she brought artists, scholars, activists, and thinkers from around the country into conversation.

Mentioned: 027: Mellon DisTIL fellow Robin Frohardt transforms plastic into thought-provoking art

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Time break-down:

[0:00] Episode intro and Alex Ripp’s bio.

[1:44] Alex talks about what she does in her current position at Carolina Performing Arts.

[5:09] We learn more about a “DisTIL fellow” experience and hear an example of university faculty members from different departments coming together with artists and each other

[9:24] Outside of a university, how could interdisciplinary artists and those outside of the arts come together?

[11:38] Alex tells us how she came to this work: The shift from performer to dramaturg, and her experiences in grad school, while writing her dissertation, and early in her career as a dramaturg

[19:50] Performance in Public: Alex describes a new course she is teaching at UNC which asks us to think of the art as a “surround” and not to take it for granted

[28:02] “Do you make work in a warehouse because it’s there or because it’s the perfect place to state that work?”

[31:14] Alex talks about her work with translating Chilean plays, putting the words into a different context, and exploring memory politics

[40:35] Why does arts criticism matter, even in a smaller community like the Triangle?

[44:34] How do we create a relationship between arts critics and artists that isn’t contentious?

[49:55] Thoughts on a transitioning artistic landscape and exploring new and changing forms of arts criticism

[54:31] Thanks and sign-off


  • Context is of the utmost importance
  • The silos are dead (at least in our imaginations)
  • Often people from different disciplines don’t know that they want the same things
  • The art isn’t just about the performance, it’s about everything else…
  • Being intentional about space vs. ignoring the needs not met by the space
  • It’s not really about thumbs up/thumbs down

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Quotes from Alex:

  • “I hope [the students] will dissect things as part and parcel of their surroundings and critique things and not just take them for granted.”
  • “Performance doesn’t exist in a bubble…. I think that’s the exciting thing about performance, it’s also a challenge

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