Brenda Foley


Gender Studies


B.A., University of Santa Clara, 1982
M.F.A., California Institute of the Arts, 1984
A.M., Brown University, 2000
Ph.D., Brown University, 2004

At Marlboro Since


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Headshot of Brenda Foley

Brenda’s MFA training, interdisciplinary PhD, and extensive theater background enable her to combine award-winning work in the professional theater with scholarship centered on gender, performance, and disability. Her teaching philosophy is grounded in theater as a mode of learning, a lens and portal through which a student can view—and change—the world.

Teaching Philosophy

Brenda encourages students to engage with issues that have both personal and global relevance, whether grappling with a contemporary landscape of violence in Staging the Apocalypse or deconstructing narratives of identity in Solo Performance. “My role is as much facilitator as teacher. I support students as they discover their passions and, together, we structure a course of study through which they develop skills to successfully reach their goals,” she says. Deeply committed to supporting underrepresented voices, Brenda teaches courses in playwriting, acting, gender studies, solo performance, directing, pop culture and media, and disability studies.

Scholarly Activities

Brenda was recently named editor of the Routledge Series in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Theatre and Performance and the Carol L. Zicklin Endowed Chair at Brooklyn College (2016-2018). Her current book project, A Legacy of Violence: Women, Mental Illness, and Performance (under contract with Routledge) explores the violence inherited from our asylum history in contemporary cultural representation of women and mental illness. Her previous monograph, Undressed for Success: Beauty Contestants and Exotic Dancers as Merchants of Morality (Palgrave), illustrates the historical intersections between the pop culture entertainment forms of pageants and striptease.

As a playwright, Brenda’s artistic practice aligns with her research in its explorations of women, representation, and the ways in which violence impacts our daily lives. Her plays have been produced across the U.S. and abroad, including in London, Paris, and Canada. Protocol was selected for publication in The Best 10-Minute Plays of 2018 (Smith & Kraus) and an excerpt from Camouflage was chosen for The Best Women’s Monologues of 2019 (Smith & Kraus). Other professional work has been produced by The Bechdel Group (New York City), The Theater Project (New Jersey), Theatre Breaking Through Barriers (New York City), Athena Theatre (New York City), Sky Blue Theatre Company (London), Boston Theater Marathon (Massachusetts), Benchmark Theatre (Colorado), Wilbury Theatre Group (Rhode Island), Camino Real Playhouse (California), Sleeping Weazel (Massachusetts), and The Road Theatre Company (California). She was named a member of the 2017 Athena Theatre Playwriting Group, Athena Writes, and her full-length play, Fallen Wings, was included in the Bechdel Group Play Development Reading Series (2017). She is a member of Actors’ Equity and the Dramatists Guild Foundation.

Most recently, Brenda was a contributing playwright to the Boston production of The Audacity: Women Speak, a multi-vocal theatre project produced by Sleeping Weazel at the Boston Center for the Arts. The production won the Boston Theater Critics Association 2019 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production by a small theater. She was also an invited speaker for the two-day Wheaton College symposium on Narrative Medicine and the Healing Arts, in collaboration with Charlotte Meehan, Strong Oak Lefebvre, Stephanie Burlington Daniels, Sarah Gambito, Maya Breuer, and Robbie McCauley.


A Legacy of Violence: Women, Mental Illness, and Performance, Routledge (under contract).

A monologue from Camouflage in The Best Women’s Monologues of 2019, Smith & Kraus.

Protocol, in The Best 10-Minute Plays of 2018, Smith & Kraus, 2018.

“Passing Strange: Illness, Shame, and Performance,” in Chronicity Enquiries: Making Sense of Chronic Illness, Interdisciplinary Press, Oxford, 2013.

“The Masked Coquette: A Paradigm for the 18th-Century Stage” in Refiguring the Coquette, Bucknell University Press, 2008.

Undressed for Success: Beauty Contestants and Exotic Dancers as Merchants of Morality, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Selected Public Presentations

Invited Speaker, “Narrative Medicine and the Healing Arts Symposium,” Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, Wheaton College, 2019.

“Forever Unknown: Narratives of Women in Nineteenth-Century Asylums,” Brooklyn College panel on Memory, Trauma, and Violence, 2017.

“Passing Strange,” Chronic Illness: The Borderlands between Health and Illness conference, Oxford, England, 2011.

“Performing Pain,” Interdisciplinary meeting, Probing Boundaries, Making Sense of Pain, Warsaw, 2011.

“That’s Entertainment: Representations of Disability in Pop Culture,” University of Central Lancashire, England, 2010.

Invited Panelist, Bingham Program for Excellence in Teaching, “Twenty-First Liberal Education: A Contested Concept,” Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, 2008.

Sponsored Plans


Dissertation Dive: How Exotic Dancers, Pageant Contestants Are Regulated and Commodified

Image as Identity: Beauty Contestants and Exotic Dancers as Merchants of Morality

Brenda Foley to Edit Routledge Series

Theater and gender studies professor Brenda Foley is contracted to edit a series on equity, diversity, and inclusion in theater and performance for the leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences.

Faculty play wins British Theater Challenge

A one-act play written by theater professor Brenda Foley was named as one of 10 winners of Sky Blue Theatre Company’s 2016 British Theater Challenge, chosen from hundreds of submissions from around the world.