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Sawyer Kemp ('11)

Sawyer Kemp ('11)


PhD Candidate




    Sawyer Kemp graduated in 2011 with distinction in English and Textual Studies, as well as a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and a minor in Latin Classics. They received the Newell W. Rossman, Jr., Scholarship in the Humanities (2010), the Nu Sigma Nu Essay prize (2011), and the Jean Marie Richards Memorial Award for Excellence in English (2011). They are currently studying for their Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Davis, where they study Early Modern theater. They are involved in several major digital humanities projects with the UC Davis ModLab, an interdisciplinary game studies lab. They also participate in dramaturgy and recently co-chaired the UCD English Graduate Student Association.

    Tell us about some the projects you’re involved in.
    I’ve just finished a two-year graduate-student researcher position with the UCD ModLab working on a Shakespeare motion-capture video game called “Play the Knave.” Because my research deals with audiences, I’ve been doing a lot of the beta testing (user-experience type stuff) and lately shifting into pedagogy applications. I have a lot of feelings about the game, but to be brief about it — I think it fills a valuable niche by helping students who may not necessarily be interested in acting to really conceptualize the interpretive range that performance brings to a drama text. I oversaw major installations at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, and at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s youth Shakespeare Competition. Another ModLab project I work with is the Queer Game Studies cluster, a digital archival project (including collaboration with Adrienne Shaw’s team at Temple University) about the history of queer representation in and production of video games. I’m also doing dramaturgy for the Big Idea Theatre’s production of Antony and Cleopatra, which goes up in August in Sacramento! That’s my first dramaturgy gig and I’m pretty excited about it.

    Two people stand in front of two projector screens; their gestures mirror the gestures of the Shakespearean characters on the left screen.

    How has your ETS major helped you succeed?
    I might be biased, but I still believe that an English major is the best major. Obviously, in grad school in an English program Im working on articles and essays analyzing literary texts, which Syracuse prepped me for with the Honors thesis workshop and the patient mentorship of several professors who let me regularly invade their office hours (sorry/thanks/sorry!). English as a discipline trains you to make critical or interesting connections between materials, to seek out systems and understand how they operate, and to articulate those findings in direct, clear ways. This is an amazingly transferable skill set. I’m also teaching courses and mentoring undergraduate interns, and using those connections and systems to find ways of making new material relatable, or making familiar material interesting. I’ve also done part time work in promotion, game design, and brand outreach — this is all English! (Always already English?) A couple of years ago, Margie Ferguson (whom I adore) described the project of the humanities as “teaching ourselves to communicate about the things we value” and I’ve tried to get really earnest about that.

    Sawyer lives in Sacramento with two cats, and has completely converted to West Coast lifestyle by volunteering at their queer yoga studio and eating an average of 1.5 avocados per day.