Statera Member Spotlight: Sarah McCarroll

StateraArts members come from all over the USA and all genres of art-making. They are educators, arts leaders, activists, content-creators, professional artists, early career, mid-career, patrons, and community organizers. The Statera Member Spotlight is just one way StateraArts uplifts and amplifies the voices of our members. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Sarah McCarroll.


StateraArts: What is your occupation or calling in the arts?
Sarah McCarroll:
Like many artists (and educators), I wear many hats. Teacher, designer, scholar; they’re all part of the mix, and each part informs and strengthens the others. If you make me pin it down, I suppose I think of myself as a scholar-practitioner, where my practice of costume design and technology is informed by my scholarship of period dress, embodiment, and Victorian theatre, and vice versa.

SA: What organizations are you affiliated with?
I am an Associate Professor of Theatre at Georgia Southern University. I teach courses in Script Analysis and Theatre History, but I’m also the resident costume designer and costume shop director, so I teach Costume Design, too. Professionally, my home has been the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where I spent more than a decade of summers as a first hand and wardrobe supervisor.

SA: What inspires your work most?
Verbs. Stephen Fry once said something about how he’s not an actor, he acts; he’s not a writer, he writes. These are actions we undertake, not static nouns that we are. And for me, what’s packed into the idea of a verb is the potential for change, and growth, and progression; movement and motion. I teach, but I’m not one thing as a teacher; I learn from my students, I get better, I find new ways to talk about my craft and its history. I write, and when I’m actively engaged in writing, I’m creating a new intellectual space with my words and ideas. When things get crazy, it’s easy to feel as though we are being tossed around by all the forces at work in our lives, and the reminder to myself that I have to verb through my days gives me a sense of my own agency and active presence in the world.

What do you love most about your artistic community?
Its breadth and depth. It may just be via social media, but my artistic community has outposts all over the country, and knowing that those people delight in my work, and allow me to delight in theirs makes the space I inhabit feel much larger than the small town I actually live in.

Why did you become a StateraArts member?
I became a Statera member because I believe in Statera’s mission, most particularly as it relates to the experiences I hope my students will have as they become part of the professional artistic community. Statera is one of the reasons that my students’ paths and possibilities will be broader; there will be more spaces open to them because of the work that we all do with Statera. We are each other’s network, safety net, and  mentors. We keep each other honest and we celebrate the victories of each of us as the victories of us all.

Any upcoming projects you'd like to share with us? 
I’m working on a book manuscript theorizing stage costumes as vehicles of memory. Costumes hold memories of the bodies of the actors who have worn them, in their sweat stains, the strains of their seams, the bare patches on elbows and knees; and I think that gives us a way to think about how we might, here and there, visit with the ghosts of vanished performances. Costumes also convey social memories onto the bodies of actors; garments hold cultural ideas about how the body should move and behave. By looking at both of these kinds of memory, I want to explore how audiences experience and understand the costumed actor.

Tell us about another woman or non-binary artist who inspires your work. 
I am inspired by the work of Dr. Amy Cook, who studies cognitive science and performance. Her most recent book, Building Character: The Art and Science of Casting, examines the ways in which we use mental images to structure the ways in which we “cast” people, on stage, certainly, but also in everyday life. What happens if we break open those categories of casting? What happens if we reimagine King Lear as a woman? Well, Glenda Jackson happens. And we learn new things about the character, the play, and the world by opening the door to new ideas about who can fit into particular roles.

 Amy was my dissertation advisor. Perhaps the most important lesson she offered me was, “make the world into the image you want it to have.” She helped me believe that an academic world in which I got to do both of the things I love – history and costumes – could exist, if I worked to shape the space I wanted to fill.

What does gender parity in the arts look like to you?
For me, gender parity would mean that when my students become the generation “in charge” of things, the industry would actually look like the classrooms I walk into every day, with at least 50% women+. (This is, of course, also about racial parity. My classrooms are also roughly one third non-white.) Gender parity will mean that we don’t allow women and non-binary artists to fall out of the pipelines to leadership. Instead, we demand that they be given space in those pipelines; we begin to empower and advance women+ and POC at the earliest possible points in their artistic lives, so that they believe those leaderships spaces are obvious and available career choices.

Mentorship is at the core of the StateraArts mission. Tell us about one of your mentors. How did they shape you or provide pathways for opportunity?
This sounds so cliché, but can I say my mother? Her name is Dr. Roberta Rankin. In her professional life, she was a director and professor; she used to say to her students, “I get drunk on the sounds of the words we get to speak onstage.” I learned that intoxication from her. She was also a single parent, although my father was very much a part of my life, and she modeled the strength and the struggle of trying to carry so many identities at once – mother, teacher, director, etc. My mother is my first, greatest, and ongoing mentor. She taught me how to take a play apart to see what makes it tick, she encourages my whimsy, and she shows me how to tackle life’s challenges with grit and humor.

Stay tuned for a follow up article by Sarah McCarroll about creating resilient classrooms that provide students with creative space to fail and grow.

Sarah McCarroll is an associate professor of theatre at Georgia Southern University, where she teaches courses in theatre history and script analysis, and is also the resident costume designer and shop manager. She has recently completed a term as editor of the journal Theatre Symposium, with volumes on Theatrical Costume, and Theatre and Embodiment. Her published work also appears in Theatre, Performance and Cognition: Languages, Bodies and Ecologies, and she is currently at work on a book theorizing stage costumes as vehicles of embodied memory. Sarah’s professional home is the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where she has served as first hand, wardrobe supervisor, and dramaturg. She holds a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from the University of Alabama.