Dr Sarah Balkin


I grew up in California, where I did my BA (hons) in English at UCLA. I received my MA and PhD in English from Rutgers University, where I developed an interest in theatre studies. At Melbourne I am a Senior Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies. My book, Spectral Characters: Genre and Materiality on the Modern Stage (University of Michigan Press 2019), examines plays, novels, and essays by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century playwrights: Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, August Strindberg, Jean Genet, Arthur Kopit, and Samuel Beckett. My current research is on the historical emergence of deadpan performance (1830-1930) and its derivations in contemporary queer and feminist comedy. Recent publications from this project include an article, “The Killjoy Comedian: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette,” and a book chapter on comedy theory and the pre-history of deadpan style. I have also thought about how it feels to work in a university in two articles, “‘The thin air of reality’: Applause in the Lecture Theatre” and “Archival Contingencies: Institutional Afterlives of an Antipodal Library.”

What is the most memorable moment of your academic career?

Getting my job at Melbourne was very memorable! I did not set out to move countries but I took the opportunity when it came up.

What shaped your academic interests?

I have always been interested in genre, or the ways we categorize different kinds of texts and performances. It’s not the categories that matter to me, but the conventions that accompany them. Conventions—the ways in which things are usually done, from standard plots to punchlines to when an audience is supposed to applaud—tell us about what a given culture has agreed on over time. How we depart from conventions is just as interesting as how we stick to them.

What book would you recommend a first-year student in your discipline area to read?

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

What does Academic Advising mean for you?

For me academic advising is an opportunity to help students pause and reflect on what they hope to achieve at university and to hear how their time at Melbourne is going. I want to help them do some goal-setting and problem-solving, but also to listen to them so I can better understand their perspectives.

What do you think it means for students? How will it assist them in their UG journey?

Students are so busy with their readings and assessments and jobs and family obligations that I think it is often difficult for them to think in a big-picture way about what they have come here to do. Advising is one way of making time to do this in conversation with someone who knows a lot about how the university works and the kinds of skills and experience it is best placed to provide.

What are some interesting stories from your first Academic Advising meeting?

Some students in my first AA meeting were struggling with motivation during Melbourne’s extended lockdown. I appreciated that it wasn’t only me giving tips for how they might motivate themselves: students helped each other with suggestions about exercise, breaks, and reaching out to campus communities that were still meeting online.