Brian Herrera said he loves teaching theater undergraduates – students who are passionate about performance and production and are usually only taking theater history to fill a requirement – and helping them discover how what they learn in class can be integral to what they do on the stage. He said students sometimes contact him years later and tell him how they're using those concepts in their work.
"You can't carry around a library," he said, so you "have to carry this awareness of tradition with you."
He said seeing theater students perform makes possible a deeper understanding. "You get to know students and appreciate their journey and their growth in a whole different way."
Herrera, assistant professor, Department of Theatre and Dance, is an Albuquerque native. He performed at the Vortex and watched UNM theater productions while a student at Manzano High School.
He said he's grateful for the "rare blessing of having a tenure track position in my field in my home state."
He received his bachelor's degree from Brown, master's degree from UNM and doctorate from Yale. He said that while taking many theater courses, he earned his degrees in American studies because theatre programs didn't have the flexibility he was looking for in the relatively new field of performance studies.
"I really wanted to be outside the black box of the theater… so I could come to it in a different way," he said.
Though he has also acted and directed, Herrera primarily identifies as a writer.
His autobiographical one-man show, "I Was the Voice of Democracy," started as a writing exercise, until he realized it was a story that needed to be told. He recently performed it in Albuquerque, Taos and Seattle. He performs the show at The Kosmos in Albuquerque Friday, Feb. 11-Saturday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 13, at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 general, $10 students, seniors and Albuquerque Theatre Guild members. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and information.
He's adapting his dissertation, "Latin Explosion: Latinos, Racial Formation and Twentieth Century U.S. Popular Performance," for publication. The book analyzes the rise and transformation of Hispanic American identities as reflected in and shaped by entertainment. It "looks at moments when Latinos are the new hot thing," he said. "What Latino is gets rehearsed and repackaged."
Race, gender and sexual identities have been a focus of his studies since he was an undergraduate student.
"Issues of diversity and inclusion are passions for me… as a gay person and a person of Latino descent," he said.
At UNM, he has worked with El Centro de La Raza and the Feminist Research Institute. He also helped to establish UNM's new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Resource Center. He said the student-driven initiative is "an excellent example of students leading the university."
Herrera also reviews local theater productions. "Albuquerque has lots of theater… but it's hard to have a record," he said, given the ephemeral nature of stage performance.
Two planned projects are also aimed at preserving theater heritage. Herrera is the New Mexico liaison for the American Theatre Archive Project of the American Society for Theatre Research. With ATAP, Herrera will train theater companies to archive their work. He also plans to write a history of New Mexico theater traditions beginning in the 1590s, including Native American, Hispanic and European traditions.