Julia A. Walker

Chair of the Performing Arts Department
Professor of English and Performing Arts
PhD, Duke University
MA, Duke University
BA, Hanover College
research interests:
  • Modern Drama
  • Theatrical Modernism
  • Performance Theory
  • Dramatic literature
  • 19th & 20th-century theatre history
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    contact info:

    office hours:

    • ​By appointment

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Julia Walker is Chair of the Performing Arts Department and Professor of English and Drama.  Her teaching interests focus primarily on drama and performance, and range across the broadly defined historical period of modernity (c. late-18th century to the present).

    In her first book, Expressionism and Modernism in the American Theatre: Bodies,Voices, Words (Cambridge UP 2005), Julia A. Walker offered a new account of American expressionist drama, challenging the traditional critical narrative of German origins by situating it within the context of late-19th century American culture. Discussing these experimental plays in relation to new communications technologies, Walker demonstrates how they drew their formal vocabulary of disarticulated bodies, voices and words from the mute bodies gesticulating on the silent screen, the ghostly voices emanating out of phonograph horns, and the impersonality of letters stamped by machines. She argues that American expressionist playwrights drew from Delsartean theories of “expression,” which sought to counter the alienating forces of technological modernity by bringing the body’s verbal, vocal, and pantomimic “languages” back into perfect alignment. But, where expressive culture enthusiasts coordinated these three languages, expressionist playwrights counterpointed them in order to represent a dystopic vision of modern life. Examining expressionist plays by Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, John Howard Lawson, and Sophie Treadwell, Walker shows how they gave expression not only to the alienating conditions of modernity, but also to the playwrights’ own fears that these new communication technologies posed a threat to that most embodied of art forms—the theatre. In a moment when mass-produced art forms were emerging, expressionist playwrights helped effect a text/performance split that set autonomous courses for literary and theatrical modernisms.

    Her second book is entitled Performance & Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2022). In it, she argues that theatre is where ideas come alive, taking shape not only in narrative but also in embodied form.  On its stage, concepts emerge into visibility—sometimes quite literally in the contours of the actor’s body—before dissolving in the glare of house lights that return us to our own provisional reality. Sampling five distinct styles of performance from the historical period of modernity, this book shows how each style enacted, even as it represented, the ideas and experiences that helped modern audiences understand and adapt to a changing world. In the tightly-focused case studies of its five chapters, this book tracks compelling and often surprising relationships between Romantic acting and the circulation of paper money, between panoramic naturalism and the globalizing compass of the railroad, between modernist eurhythmics and nationalist stagings of the body politic, between the self-promotional tactics of the avant garde and commercial advertising, and between the “cool” style of psychological realism and the air-conditioning condenser. Exploring the social meanings of performance form, this book demonstrates how, on a stage both literal and metaphorical, actors helped audiences adapt to the profound economic, technological, political, social, and psychological changes of a modernizing world by figuring new categories of thought, modeling new social relations, and enacting new habits of self in the very ways their bodies moved.

    Walker's article, "The Birth of the 'Cool'" draws from research she conducted for the book's fifth chapter.

    In an archived "Hold that Thought" podcast, Walker discusses Fanny Kemble's 1831 performance as Bianca in Henry Milman's play Fazio--the subject of the book's first chapter.

    Walker is currently working with several of her colleagues on an English language translation of Orfeu da Conceição, the 1956 play by Brazilian poet-playwright Vinicius de Moraes, which, along with its film adaptation Orfeu Negro, is a subject of the book's fifth chapter.


    • L14 2152 Modern Texts and Contexts
    • L15 3227 Devising, Adaptation, Docudrama
    • L14 3552 Introduction to Literary Theory
    • L14 363C Theater Culture Studies III: Melodrama to Modernism
    • L14 434 Topics in English and American Drama: Melodrama
    Performance and Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage

    Performance and Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage

    How do ideas take shape? How do concepts emerge into form? This book argues that they take shape quite literally in the human body, often appearing on stage in new styles of performance. Focusing on the historical period of modernity, Performance and Modernity: Enacting Change on the Globalizing Stage demonstrates how the unforeseen impact of economic, industrial, political, social, and psychological change was registered in bodily metaphors that took shape on stage. In new styles of performance-acting, dance, music, pageantry, avant-garde provocations, film, video and networked media-this book finds fresh evidence for how modernity has been understood and lived, both by stage actors, who, in modelling new habits, gave emerging experiences an epistemological shape, and by their audiences, who, in borrowing the strategies performers enacted, learned to adapt to a modernizing world.

    Expressionism and Modernism in the American Theatre: Bodies, Voices, Words

    Expressionism and Modernism in the American Theatre: Bodies, Voices, Words

    Although often dismissed as a minor offshoot of the better-known German movement, expressionism on the American stage represents a critical phase in the development of American dramatic modernism. Situating expressionism within the context of early twentieth-century American culture, Walker demonstrates how playwrights who wrote in this mode were responding both to new communications technologies and to the perceived threat they posed to the embodied act of meaning. At a time when mute bodies gesticulated on the silver screen, ghostly voices emanated from tin horns, and inked words stamped out the personality of the hand that composed them, expressionist playwrights began to represent these new cultural experiences by disarticulating the theatrical languages of bodies, voices and words. In doing so, they not only innovated a new dramatic form, but redefined playwriting from a theatrical craft to a literary art form, heralding the birth of American dramatic modernism.