Who We Are

The TAPS Workshop brings together faculty and graduate students from across the university whose research concerns theater and/or performance. If you would like to join our email list, please contact the workshop coordinators at their emails below, or using the contact page.

Faculty sponsors:

jessica swanston baker Jessica Swanston Baker is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in contemporary popular music of and in the Circum-Caribbean. Her research and critical interests include tempo and aesthetics, coloniality, decolonization, and race/gender and respectability. As a Caribbeanist, her work focuses on issues within Caribbean theory pertaining to small islands-nations such as representation and invisibility, vulnerability, and sovereignty. Her current ethnographic book project, The Aesthetics of Speed: Music and the Modern in St. Kitts and Nevis examines the relationship between tempo perception and gendered and raced legacies of colonization. Through historical and ethnographic analysis of polysemantic colloquialisms and music reception, she argues that colonial understandings of black femininity, and Enlightenment notions of musicianship frame local perceptions of wylers, a style of Kittitian-Nevisian popular music, as “too fast.” Her most recent article, “Black Like Me: Caribbean Tourism and the St. Kitts Music Festival,” takes up music tourism as a second area of research interest. This work centers on black diasporic travel between the United States and the Caribbean, and the performance and consumption of American soul music within the context of Caribbean music festivals.

Jessica holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Pennsylvania and a BM in Vocal Performance from Bucknell University. Prior to her faculty appointment at Chicago, Jessica was the 2015-16 postdoctoral fellow in Critical Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Music; Director of Graduate Studies

julia rhoads

Julia Rhoads is the founding Artistic Director of Chicago-based Lucky Plush Productions, a dance-theater company that creates original productions with a signature blend of technical choreography, casual dialogue, surprising humor, and socially relevant themes. Her work for Lucky Plush has been presented in over 55 US and international cities, and commissioning partners include Harris Theater (IL), Clarice Smith Center (MD), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (IL), Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (VT), Krannert Center at University of Illinois, The Yard (MA), and Links Hall (IL). Independent choreography credits include Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Steppenwolf Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Walkabout Theater, Redmoon, and River North Chicago Dance Company, among others. Under her leadership, Lucky Plush received the prestigious MacArthur Award in 2016, and creation and touring awards include National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, National Theater Project, and National Performance Network. She is the recipient of an Alpert Award in Dance, fellowships from Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Illinois Arts Council, Chicago Dancemakers Forum and the Jacob K Javits Foundation, and her innovative arts management practices were recognized with a Fractured Atlas Arts Entrepreneurship Award. She is a former member of the San Francisco Ballet and ensemble member of XSIGHT! Performance Group, and received her BA in History from Northwestern University and her MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute Chicago.

Director of the Dance Program; Assistant Senior Instructional Professor


Advisory Support:

tara aisha willisTara Aisha Willis is a dancer, writer, and Curator in Performance & Public Practice at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University, where she received the Deena Burton Memorial Scholarship in Dance Scholarship Award and was the first arts-focused candidate to receive the University-wide Outstanding Dissertation Award in Arts & Humanities. Her dissertation focused on contemporary practices of improvisation and experimentation in Black dance performances. Willis performed in a collaboration between Will Rawls and Claudia Rankine (2016–21) which traveled to Bard College, Danspace Project, Walker Art Center, REDCAT, MCA Chicago, and ICA Boston, and in the 2016 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award-winning performance by The Skeleton Architecture; she is a recent recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency for her choreographic work. She held a Jerome Robbins Dance Division Research Fellowship at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and has been an editorial collective member of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory since 2013. She has served as co-managing editor of TDR/The Drama Review, and was co-editor of both a special issue of The Black Scholar with Thomas F. DeFrantz and the performance writing project, Marking the Occasion (Wendy’s Subway, 2021) with Jaime Shearn Coan. Her writing appears in the exhibition catalogue, Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures (Getty Research Institute/X Artists’ Books, 2022) and is forthcoming in the anthology, Dancing on the Third Coast: Chicago Dance Histories (University of Illinois Press, 2023; eds. Susan Manning and Lizzie Leopold). Willis also worked in programming at the NYC dance incubator Movement Research, where she was the founding administrator of the Artists of Color Council. She was an original working group member of “Creating New Futures,” the COVID-19 responsive guidelines for ethical dance presenting, and currently sits on the board of Links Hall, on the Anti-Racism Task Force of Chicago Dancemakers Forum, and on the Artistic Advisory Board of The Field Center residency in Vermont.

2023-2024 Workshop Coordinators:

jamie naiel-chikae lee

Jamie Lee is a 3rd year PhD student in TAPS and English.


jennifer williams

Jennifer Williams is a 3rd year PhD student in TAPS and English.

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