Kaja Dunn is an actor, director, and activist. Coming to UNC Charlotte with a successful career in the professional world, she brings her engaged scholarship into the classroom and onto the stage.
Dunn’s research into Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion issues in theatre addresses the decolonization of theatre in pedagogy and in the profession.
“The idea of decolonizing really deals with looking at power structures and what has been in place for a long time,” she says. “What we look at as the ‘standard’ comes from who was in charge. When we look at decolonization we look at what other points of view are being excluded because they are being compared to what we consider ‘standard.’”
Dunn serves as secretary on the national board of the Black Theatre Association. In 2018, she led a session at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education national conference on “Safe Spaces for Students of Color and Decolonizing the Theatre Classroom,” and she is co-organizing an international conference on “Decolonizing the Acting Process,” with faculty from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
“I’m really interested in shaping and changing the world that our students will go into,” she says. She is also shaping the experience they have in the acting studio.
“It’s always my goal to acknowledge the centrality of lived experience. When I went through school, a lot of the philosophy was ‘tear you down to build you up.’ Instead of tearing you down to build you up, we start with who you are and what asset that brings, and then we make you flexible. But we never lose who you are.”
Dunn is excited to watch UNC Charlotte theatre students as they recognize their talents, hone their skills, and begin to enter the professional world.
“We have people in the department who are well connected, so our students are constantly being exposed to internships and job opportunities and auditions,” she says. “They’re getting jobs and they’re getting into grad school and they’re producing really excellent work on stage.”
But her greatest satisfaction is creating a culture of collaboration and compassion in a field that is often criticized as self-focused.
“Just watching them develop as a cohort – they’re generous people. They’re learning how to look out for and build and give to each other, and I’m seeing them share audition notices; they’re taking each other to New York; they’re figuring out how to pull each other along. We’re helping build citizens who are good human beings.”