Grad Student Spotlight on Robyn Lee Horn

Published June 22, 2021

Robyn Horn in performance.

Robyn Lee Horn in the Lincoln Center Songbook Series

Robyn Lee Horn is a third-year doctoral student whose research focuses primarily on the intersection of religious performance and tourism. Originally from New Jersey, Horn began a career in the arts as a professional actor in New York City, appearing primary in regional productions with a little bit of touring, for ten years. To help ends meet and further her arts immersion, she also taught and directed at a city performing arts high school.

After New York, Horn decided to finish undergraduate studies and pursue a teaching certification, then moved to Buffalo to enroll in the PhD program in the Department of Theatre and Dance. Drawing on her acting career and recent studies, Horn explains “I found that I really love teaching…It’s something that I want to do with the rest of my life.” In spring 2021, Horn taught script analysis at UB as well as two sections of advanced acting as an adjunct instructor at Niagara University.

Horn remains an active theatre practitioner as well. An unexpected opportunity presented itself last summer when Horn was asked to become the managing director of Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre. Horn was assistant director for Alleyway’s digital production Currents: 716, and also directed a play for Instagram Live called Goat Song, the winner of Alleyway’s Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition in the new Digital Theatre category during COVID-19.  

Robyn Lee Horn.

Robyn Lee Horn, by Kristen Rice

In June 2021, she directs the short play Lily and Tessa’s Super Star Show, Episode 37 as part of the Buffalo Quickies short play festival. Alleyway balances audiences’ desire to return to live theatre with the need to keep people safe by staging the six short plays in storefronts along Main Street. THD’s Dyan Burlingame, Lynne Koscielniak, and graduate student Emily Powrie created environments for the plays behind the storefront windows.

“Buffalo feels like a place where it's possible to have a really rich artistic life and also do other things,” Horn continued. “There’s a lot of opportunity, like the fact that I'm running a theatre right now. I've only been here for a couple years, but I feel like there's been so much community support and space to really get in and make a mark.”

Alleyway’s mandate to produce new work is shaping the Buffalo theatre community, and plays to many of Horn’s strengths. Indeed, Horn’s natural advantage at Alleyway is that she’s an artist first, and a business person second “I think it's so important right now, especially as there’s a real social justice imperative. In terms of the voices that get elevated and that have been successful in commercial theatre, it's been mostly white and male. So theatres that produce new plays really have the opportunity to do work to find people who maybe don’t have the agents, money, and the backing behind them because they don't come from that world.”

Robyn Lee Horn in "Fun Home.".

Robyn Lee Horn (center) in "Fun Home."

Horn’s acting work is also notable. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical Artie Award for her performance as Adult Alison in Fun Home with MusicalFare Theatre at Shea's 710. She also performed as Bea in the digital production Bigfoot, by John Elston, with Road Less Traveled Theatre. Horn also believes she will direct new work at Alleyway during the 2021-2022 season, once in-person performances resume.

Regarding her scholarly interests and dissertation, “I’ve been studying religious performance,” Horn said. “It’s been fascinating and not at all what I thought I was going to be doing when I came to UB. Right after Trump was elected I became really interested in evangelicals, because that's such a huge part of his base, and the ‘us and them-ness’ of the country. I was interested in looking at what theatre is happening outside of the ‘blue bubble’ of New York City and Chicago.”

“There’s a Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster, PA that does live Bible stories on stage. There are all these interesting overlaps between the political, historical, and the theoretical, and between ritual and performance. There’s music and a performative element, and when you’re performing worship on stage there’s a lot of slippage between ‘What is performance?’ and the idea of the (similarly) transcendent space that actors go into, which we call ‘the flow.’”

“I've also been looking at tourism and pilgrimage. There are many religious tourism sites and Christian theme parks, like The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, and Oberammergau in Germany. The Holy Land Experience was started by a man who converted from Judaism but it was eventually bought by the people who ran the Christian network with Tammy Faye Bakker. So now there’s all this glitz and commercialism attached to their brand. The money that’s put into it is unreal.”

Her latest article about Christian-themed Halloween haunted houses, “American Hells: Hell House, Abortion Frames, and Performances of Misogyny,” will be published in the upcoming book Theatre and the Macabre, co-edited by UB Theatre and Dance’s Meredith Conti and Dr. Kevin Wetmore, to be published by University of Wales Press. Horn has presented related work at the Mid-America Theatre Conference, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and the American Society for Theatre Research. You can read more about Robyn Horn’s acting, producing, and scholarship here: