Julia A. Walker

Julia A. Walker

Chair of the Performing Arts Department
Professor of English and Performing Arts
PhD, Duke University
MA, Duke University
BA, Hanover College
research interests:
  • Modern Drama
  • Theatrical Modernism
  • Performance Theory
  • Dramatic literature
  • 19th & 20th-century theatre history
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    office hours:

    • ​By appointment

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
      CB 1122
      One Brookings Drive
      St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Julia Walker is Chair of the Performing Arts Department and Associate Professor of English and Drama.  Her teaching interests focus primarily on drama and performance, and range across the broadly defined historical period of modernity (c. late-18th century to the present). Her current book project is a cultural history of performance.

    In her first book, Expressionism and Modernism in the American Theatre: Bodies,Voices, Words (Cambridge UP 2005), Julia A. Walker offered a new account of American expressionist drama, challenging the traditional critical narrative of German origins by situating it within the context of late-19th century American culture. Discussing these experimental plays in relation to new communications technologies, Walker demonstrates how they drew their formal vocabulary of disarticulated bodies, voices and words from the mute bodies gesticulating on the silent screen, the ghostly voices emanating out of phonograph horns, and the impersonality of letters stamped by machines. She argues that American expressionist playwrights drew from Delsartean theories of “expression,” which sought to counter the alienating forces of technological modernity by bringing the body’s verbal, vocal, and pantomimic “languages” back into perfect alignment. But, where expressive culture enthusiasts coordinated these three languages, expressionist playwrights counterpointed them in order to represent a dystopic vision of modern life. Examining expressionist plays by Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, John Howard Lawson, and Sophie Treadwell, Walker shows how they gave expression not only to the alienating conditions of modernity, but also to the playwrights’ own fears that these new communication technologies posed a threat to that most embodied of art forms—the theatre. In a moment when mass-produced art forms were emerging, expressionist playwrights helped effect a text/performance split that set autonomous courses for literary and theatrical modernisms.

    Her second book, entitled Performance & Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. In it, she argues that theatre is where ideas come alive, taking shape not only in narrative but also in embodied form.  On its stage, concepts emerge into visibility—sometimes quite literally in the contours of the actor’s body—before dissolving in the glare of house lights that return us to our own provisional reality. Sampling five distinct styles of performance from the historical period of modernity, this book shows how each style enacted, even as it represented, the ideas and experiences that helped modern audiences understand and adapt to a changing world. In the tightly-focused case studies of its five chapters, this book tracks compelling and often surprising relationships between Romantic acting and the circulation of paper money, between panoramic naturalism and the globalizing compass of the railroad, between modernist eurhythmics and nationalist stagings of the body politic, between the self-promotional tactics of the avant garde and commercial advertising, and between the “cool” style of psychological realism and the air-conditioning condenser. Exploring the social meanings of performance form, this book demonstrates how, on a stage both literal and metaphorical, actors helped audiences adapt to the profound economic, technological, political, social, and psychological changes of a modernizing world by figuring new categories of thought, modeling new social relations, and enacting new habits of self in the very ways their bodies moved.

    Walker's article, "The Birth of the 'Cool'" draws from research she conducted for the book's fifth chapter.

    In an archived "Hold that Thought" podcast, Walker discusses Fanny Kemble's 1831 performance as Bianca in Henry Milman's play Fazio--the subject of the book's first chapter.

    Walker is currently working with several of her colleagues on an English language translation of Orfeu da Conceição, the 1956 play by Brazilian poet-playwright Vinicius de Moraes, which, along with its film adaptation Orfeu Negro, is a subject of the book's fifth chapter.


    • L14 2152 Modern Texts and Contexts
    • L15 3227 Devising, Adaptation, Docudrama
    • L14 3552 Introduction to Literary Theory
    • L14 363C Theater Culture Studies III: Melodrama to Modernism
    • L14 434 Topics in English and American Drama: Melodrama
    Performance and Modernity Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage

    Performance and Modernity Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage

    How do ideas take shape? How do concepts emerge into form? This book argues that they take shape quite literally in the human body, often appearing on stage in new styles of performance. Focusing on the historical period of modernity, Performance and Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage demonstrates how the unforeseen impact of economic, industrial, political, social, and psychological change was registered in bodily metaphors that took shape on stage. In new styles of performance-acting, dance, music, pageantry, avant-garde provocations, film, video and networked media-this book finds fresh evidence for how modernity has been understood and lived, both by stage actors, who, in modelling new habits, gave emerging experiences an epistemological shape, and by their audiences, who, in borrowing the strategies performers enacted, learned to adapt to a modernizing world.

    • Offers a resolution to long-standing debates about the “ontology of performance,” proposing that it lies in the shifting material contours of bodies set in motion
    • Pioneers an original approach to the study of modernism, focusing on performance as an art form attuned to capturing the experience of 'the new' as one of temporal change
    • Reframes theatre history by shifting focus from individual actors to period styles that reflect emerging cultural concerns across broad geographical and historical spectra