Paige Johnson gives opening remarks at the National Creative Writing and Arts Competition for high schoolers in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2011.
Paige Johnson gives opening remarks at the National Creative Writing and Arts Competition for high schoolers in Jakarta, Indonesia (2011)

Paige Johnson is a graduate student at the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS.) An Alabama native, she came to the TDPS following a year in Indonesia on a Fulbright grant after she completed her B.A. from Columbia University.

Paige was still on Indonesian soil when she decided to pursue her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. “While teaching English and Theatre to high-schoolers in Indonesia, I began to keep this running list of things I wanted to research,” she said. “I was being bombarded by all of these fascinating, complicated experiences and I really missed the environment of rigorous critical reflection that one can find in the academy.” Paige followed her heart and, from long distance, applied to graduate school.

Since coming to UC Berkeley in 2011, Paige has engaged in several exciting projects. She co-directed the original piece “Champagne Problems” in the 2011 workshop Lust for Magic, directed a workshop production of Jean Genet’s The Maids, traveled to the 11th Annual Havana Biennial in 2012 as a research assistant, and returned to Indonesia to do research and language training in the summer of 2013. Most recently, she gave a series of dramaturgical talks for the California Shakespeare Theater’s 2013 season as part of a new partnership between Cal Shakes and UC Berkeley.

In this interview with eGrad, Paige — who expects to graduate in 2017 — talked about her professional life, job goals, and remarkable times she has had as a TDPS student at UC Berkeley.

What made you choose UC Berkeley?
Having grown up in the South and having done my undergraduate degree on the East Coast, I was really craving a change in the environment. I came to visit Berkeley and completely fell in love with the Bay Area. I also really appreciated the passion that people here have not only about their work, but about preserving Berkeley as an accessible public institution. I won’t say that I didn’t love the seemingly limitless access and resources that come with attending a private institution. But I just felt from the moment I first visited this campus that I was being engaged in a more rigorous way in the very purpose of today’s universities.

What drew you to the TDPS?
What really drew me to TDPS, besides the truly excellent faculty, was the department’s commitment to truly interdisciplinary work. As soon as I was informed of my acceptance, I began receiving emails from faculty in the TDPS Graduate Group, who have disciplinary homes in other departments, but who were already reaching out to draw connections to my work from their fields. There’s just this amazing potential fostered by the department and the wider graduate group to really explode the boundaries of your work, and I found and continue to find this uniquely challenging and incredibly exciting.

What’s the focus of your studies?
I would say, at its most simple, Performance Studies is a field that focuses on performance as a theoretical lens and an object of study. Performance here [at UC Berkeley] moves beyond the boundaries of just theatre or dance to encompass a wide range of behaviors and situations. My work focuses on genres of performance emerging out of male-to-female transgender communities in Indonesia. While my project is still in its nascent stages, I’m interested in performance as a tool for identity formation for trans communities and how these formations coalesce with or oppose contemporary notions of “Indonesian-ness” as constructed by the state.

What’s your ultimate career goal?
A cheeky answer would probably be “get a job.” But in all seriousness I would love to join the ranks of the professoriate and continue to teach and pursue my research. However, I think it’s really important in today’s economy to be flexible. So, to that end, I’m definitely keeping an eye to how my skills can also translate outside of the academy.

What will you never forget about your time at UC Berkeley?
My experience observing and eventually participating in the various forms of campus activism that have taken place over the last three years. Seeing students and educators fight for not only the idea but the reality of the public university. It has been a really tumultuous time to enter UC but I can honestly say it’s made me a more conscious person and ethical scholar.