New faculty member on The Odyssey and advice for young artists
by Logan Beck
Though she has a very decorated theater career, Katherine Nigh did not always want to be involved with theater directly. “I've wanted to be a pilot, a florist, a politician, a ballet dancer,” Nigh said. “After receiving my MA, I still considered going to law school. Sometimes I still want to be all of those things.”
Assistant Professor Nigh serves as the dramaturg for Temple Theater’s upcoming production of The Odyssey, opening this week, and also teaches "Community Engaged Theater" - all while seeking to continually make an impact.
She grew up partially in Yuma, AZ, learning English and Spanish as a child simultaneously, and also in Northern California, where her career in the arts would begin to take flight. There, she began studying theater at the American Conservatory of Theater's Young Conservatory.
After attending Hunter College and receiving a degree in writing with a double minor in theater and political science, Nigh worked as a stage manager and in the elementary school system. Then, she received another degree - this time an MA in Performance Studies at New York University.
“I then went on to get my PhD at Arizona State University in the Theater and Performance of the Americas Program, writing my dissertation on cultural trauma and performance,” Nigh said.
The Odyssey will be the first show Nigh has worked on at Temple University, as it is her first year instructing at Temple. In the past, Nigh has served a number of professional roles including assistant director, stage manager, dramaturg and more at The Public Theater, The American Conservatory Theater, Center Theater Group, and others.
Nigh’s role as the dramaturg is to research the historical background of the text, in order for the actors to better understand the context of the production. Her objective was to support the actors, director, designers and everyone else involved and ultimately contribute to a successful, vibrant final product.
“In this case, since we are working with an adaptation of an ancient and well-known text, I wanted to focus on how this adaptation is different from the original and why that is significant,” Nigh said.
In addition to working tirelessly on The Odyssey, Nigh works with community-engaged theater, which is essentially theater that engages the community in which it is made.
“This may mean that the cast includes non-professional actors, this may mean that the plays produced reflect the stories of the community, this may mean that there is a social change aspect - attempting to address and change an issue that negatively impacts the community,” Nigh said.
For Nigh, the most rewarding part of her role and performing is hearing people’s stories - and often being surprised by them.
“You could sit down and try to write the most brilliant, impactful play about a topic but ultimately it is those who have experienced things first hand who can best describe their stories,” Nigh said. “Then your job as an artist is to put that story on stage in the most beautiful, impact way possible.”
As an educator, Nigh believes that the most rewarding moments are when her students realize what they want to learn and become in the pursuit of living their own life.
“Honestly, I would say that the most important thing for me is when my students figure out that they have to want to learn for themselves,” Nigh said. "Not to please their parents or their teachers but so that they can expand their minds and their hearts.”
Though the industry poses many challenges, including lack of support for the arts, competition and more, Nigh advises students to continue to pursue their goals no matter what.
“But ultimately, if you have that fire burning inside you, you have to ignore all the obstacles and move forward as fearlessly as you possibly can,” Nigh said. “The gift of being young is that you tend to be more fearless than when you get older. My advice - utilize that fearlessness while you've got it. Be brave! Make bold choices and go after the life that you want.”