This is another in an ongoing series of profiles of faculty members who have recently achieved tenure. These profiles are intended to provide illustrations of how some faculty reach that goal.
How do you translate research that aims to be invisible into a traditional academic tenure portfolio?
As a dialect coach, that was the challenge facing Erika Bailey, M.F.A, M.A., who was recently promoted to associate professor with tenure in the department of theatre.
Her “unusual” tenure process began when she was hired at UMKC in 2006, and it was delayed after the birth of her twins in 2008 when she “stopped the tenure clock.”
Bailey’s primary research is in dialect study with research in classical rhetoric and its application to speaking “heightened text for actors”. She works primarily with professional theatres during the rehearsal process for productions that require actors to use dialects, and most of her work is behind the scenes.
“The work of a dialect coach can be largely invisible,” said Bailey. “When reviews of plays are written, they rarely mention the dialects unless the actors did not execute them well. In fact, if I do my job really well, no one seeing the production is thinking about dialects; they’re absorbing the story seamlessly through a variety speech patterns that help to convey the world of the play. So I had to find ways to document my work so it became more visible to the reviewers of my portfolio.”
According to Bailey, the upcoming production of Kansas City Rep’s “The Foreigner” is a good example of what her work entails.
“There are a number of different dialects the actors need to use, including a number of different dialects from Georgia that would have very different sounds,” said Bailey. “There also are two characters from England – one with Received Pronunciation and one speaks with a Cockney dialect.”
Once research into these dialects is complete, Bailey attends rehearsals to coach the actors in using these very specific and nuanced dialects and then to listen to the actors in the performance space and assess whether their use of language and dialect is clear and fits the needs of the production in terms of character and the world of the play.
Seeing this dialect study and the coaching of it as research can be quite difficult for those unfamiliar with the role of a dialect coach.
Once she resumed her tenure process the following year, Bailey received support from various sources. An invaluable part of it was the support she received from her colleagues at UMKC, as well as through the Voice and Speech Trainers Association.
“My tenure challenge is not a new one for voice teachers in an academic setting, and the association has a number of supports in place to assist members as they go through the process,” said Bailey. “For instance, they provide suggested assessment guidelines for reviewers and can arrange for peer reviewers at national conferences.” Bailey also credited the assistance from her mentor, UMKC Hall Family Foundation Professor of Theatre Jennifer Martin, Ph.D.
“Professor Martin suggested that I reserve time every week to pursue the particular tasks needed to fulfill my tenure obligations. Some weeks I had more success than others.”
Bailey’s department chair allowed her time to teach master classes at other actor training institutions and to coach productions out of town. She has coached at The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and The McCarter Theatre at Princeton. She also has coached regularly for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Bailey also coached the Tony-nominated Broadway production of “Mary Stuart.”
Each of these opportunities allowed Bailey unique ways to document her work and thereby build an impressive portfolio for her reviewers.
“I was thrilled to receive tenure. The non-traditional nature of my work had left me worried that I wouldn’t be granted tenure,” said Bailey. “It was a vote of confidence in my teaching and coaching to receive it.
“It also gave me great faith in UMKC itself that the institution has enough imagination and flexibility to think out of the box about what constitutes ‘research.’ ”