Assistant Professor - Graduate Studies
Department of Theatre
Dr. Keith Byron Kirk is an Assistant Professor for the theatre department. He began his performance career as an actor in multiple productions with Houston’s black Ensemble Theatre in the company’s productions of Do Lord Remember Me and Hunter. He was then cast in Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Co. productions of Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath and Tuck Yourgrau’s The Song of Jacob Zulu. The original Steppenwolf production of the Steinbeck work was soon followed by productions at The La Jolla Playhouse, The National Theater of Great Britain and eventually the show’s Tony Award winning Broadway run. He returned to Chicago to perform in a number of productions at Steppenwolf, The Goodman Theater, Wisdom Bridge, and Blind Parrot Theater, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and others. Also a singer, he then took a starring turn in the role of John for the 1st National touring production of Cameron Macintosh’s Miss Saigon for which he was awarded a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. He later performed the role in both the Broadway, Stuttgart, and Los Angeles productions. Recently Keith was invited to London by Sir Trevor Nunn to explore Nunn’s new adaptation of Bess as Porgy and was also asked by Hal Prince to portray the role of Che Guevara in Mr. Prince’s final tour of Evita and later in the roles of Grady and Mister in both the Chicago, Los Angeles and 1st National touring productions of The Color Purple. His work can be heard on the original cast recordings of William Finn’s A New Brain and Elegies and on composer Georgia Stitt’s recent CD release This Ordinary Thursday on PS Classics. Other performance credits include shows at Houston’s Alley and Black Ensemble Theater’s, The Williamstown Theater Festival, The Ahmanson Theater, The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Other Broadway appearances include King David, The Civil War, and The Piano Lesson as well as in numerous concerts and venues across the United States and Europe.
Dr. Kirk began his playwriting career as research assistant to playwright, poet and author Ntozake Shange during her tenure at the University of Houston and is the author of the plays Ft. Lonesome, Urban Trilogy, As Reaper In Summer Grain (developed at the Eugene O’Neill Conference), Knees of A Natural Man and a number of One Act plays. He is presently working on another full-length play, Concealment/Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, based on the works of artist Abbot Handerson Thayer and set in 1980’s Chicago. Keith was a finalist in the Ensemble Studio Theater’s recent marathon of One Act Plays and the first play from his ‘Urban Trilogy’ was performed there in Fall 2004. He was also a 2004 finalist for the Theodore Ward Prize at Chicago’s Columbia College and his play As Reaper in Summer Grain was developed at the 2005 Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. Recent projects include writing the book for a new musical based on the Montgomery Bus Boycott commissioned by Alabama State University and the Rosa Parks Library and New York’s the Transport Group’s The Audience which was nominated for a 2005 Drama Desk Award. He also mined the archival materials that became the African American narratives in Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War for the Broadway stage. His recent one act play PARABLE is based on the relationship between the late singer Marvin Gaye and his father and was presented at the Ensemble Studio Theater in fall 2008.
A BA graduate of SUNY (Anderson Scholarship recipient) Keith then received his MA in Performance Studies and Playwriting at New York University in the spring of 2007 (Newington/Cropsey Foundation Fellow, Alfred Gallatin Scholarship 2006/07) and his doctorate at Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Theatre and Drama Program under the guidance of Professors Tracy Davis and Harvey Young. Dr. Kirk’s research explores specific performances of African American Funerary Ritual as mobilization narratives and their performances as similar to oratory found in other standard dramatic works. His most recent work explores the emergent area of civic dramaturgy as an aspect of performance and community engagement. He is editor of an upcoming collection on playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle and its audience. He is also presently editing another work for publication. Other areas of interest include the intersectionality of history and memory in 20th Century African American Drama and African American and American performance historiography. From 2011 to 2016 he returned to Houston as Assistant Professor of Performance Studies and head of the MA program in Dramaturgy and Performance at the University of Houston and later served as assistant professor of Performance Studies and African American Drama in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Theatre Arts. Keith joined the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Theatre as Assistant Professor of Performance and Theatre Studies and acted as Graduate Program Director from Fall of 2017 to Spring of 2021. He has strongly promoted collaborations of performance practice and research as the most effective method of bolstering the continued growth of performance on multiple fronts.