Dr. Michelle Cowin Gibbs


Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts

Head of the B.A. Theatre Arts Program

Dr. Michelle Cowin Gibbs teaches a wide variety of courses in the School of Theatre Arts including theatre history and criticism, contemporary theatre studies and acting.

Her scholarly research interests include a spectrum of interdisciplinary studies situated in Black performance including autoethnographic performance, dance criticism, performativity and critical identity studies in and around early 20th century Black modernist theatre.

As a solo performance artist, Dr. Gibbs uses her body as a site for inquiry into how racialization and Black female sexualization manifest into performances of affect—teetering between the spaces of tragic/comical and repulsive/alluring. Recent solo performance works include: "They Don’t Really Care About Us: PO-lice, PoPos, Sandra, and Me," a performance movement exploration of the relationship among police, policing and Black women as told through a reimagining of the last day of Sandra Bland’s life; "A Thing Held in Full View," a commentary on race, gender, and women's reproductive rights in Texas; "Blunt-Force Trauma: A Mother's Performance in Empathy," an autoethnographic performance that explores the relationship among motherhood, cruelty, and forgiveness; and "Dancing with my/Self: The Selfie Monologues," an exploration of Selfie culture that self-reflexively challenges how we attempt to hone-fetishize-dominate perceptions of self.

Dr. Gibbs serves as board chair of Brownbody, a performing arts company located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Using a blend of African diasporic perspectives in modern dance, theatre, and figure skating, Brownbody seeks to build artistic experiences that disrupt biased narratives.

Visit Dr. Gibbs' professional website.


Ph.D., Bowling Green State University, M.F.A., University of California-Irvine, B.A., Western Michigan University

Additional Training

Certificate in Performance Studies, Bowling Green State University

Professional Affiliations

Black Theater Association in Association with American Association for Theatre Education (ATHE), Black Theatre Network, American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), The Honors Society of Phi Kappa Phi Honors, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated.

Awards and Select Grants
  • “Zora Neale Hurston Digital Humanities Website Project”, History on Black Writing Project, Black Digital Humanities. University of Kansas, February 2022.
  • “Zora Neale Hurston... Age of Metadata and Digital Tools”, Gardner Faculty Scholars Award, Illinois Wesleyan University, May 2022.
  • “Exploring Zora Neale Hurston’s Theater”, National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute: Hurston on the Horizon, Sponsored by University of Kansas, July 2021.
  • “Digital Humanities Scaffold Project in the Theatre History Classroom” Presidential Innovation Fund, Illinois Wesleyan University, March 2022.
  • “Teaching Cultural Diversity and Celebrating Ethnicity in Evelina Fernandez’ A Mexican Trilogy: A Digital Humanities Assignment”, International and Global Studies Teaching Grant, Illinois Wesleyan University, October 2021.
  • “MLK Day Undoing Racism Through Creative Practice for Racial Healing” Healing Illinois Grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust, December 2020.
Select Publications
  • “The Stoney Silence: Negotiating Empathy and Audience Expectations in Solo Autoethnographic Performance in Audience Research" Impacting Theatre Audiences: Methods for Studying Change. Eds. Matt Omasta and Dani Snyder-Young, Routledge. “Toward a Black Feminist Dramaturgy: Honoring the Theatrical Legacy of Zora Neale Hurston” The Journal of American Drama and Theatre. Spring 2021. (pending publication)
  • “Celebrating Black Feminist Divinity in Leslie Parker Dance Project’s crystal, smoke n’ spirit(s)...” Fourth Wall Online Magazine. Walker Art Center. Web. 5 Aug. 2019.
  • “Bad Bitches and the Disruption of Black Masculine Supremacy at the Ultimate White Party 2014 Midwest Edition.” Ideas and Their Influences. 4th ed., Ed. Aprilfaye T. Manalang and Andrew T. Arroyo, Kendall Hunt, 2017.
  • “An Act of Terrorism: Performative (His)trosities and the Eradication of the Black Body.” Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies. (2015). 1-5 Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Visit Dr. Gibbs' full bibliography.