Interview with Dr Hannah Lewis

Dr Hannah Lewis takes time out of her busy book writing schedule to talk to us about her new research project, the Ernest Lehman collection at the Harry Ransom Center, upcoming events at UT, and why she is excited about the Center for American Music.

What research projects are you working on right now?

I presented some new research at the Society for American Music this past Sunday (March 26, 2017) that takes advantage of the Ernest Lehman collection at the Harry Ransom Center. Ernest Lehman was an important screen writer in the 50s and 60s, and was the screen writer for a couple of film musical adaptations. He was one of the main voices involved in adapting stage musicals for screen. It’s a project that looks at both Broadway and Hollywood, the relationship between them, the relationship between stage and screen, and the role of the musical in American Cinema. This is part of a larger project that will unpack those a lot of those points and think about adaptation, translation from stage to screen, and the challenges that that presents for the creative teams involved.

What led you to explore the Ernest Lehman collection at the Harry Ransom Center?

It was fortuitous actually. I was teaching the Ernest Lehman collection in a course on musical theatre in the spring of 2016, and I knew that there were materials that would be of interest. I brought the students in to look at some of the collection related to West Side Story, since it was one of the musicals that we were covering. It peaked my interest and I though that there was more there that was worth exploring, and how lucky I am to be on campus at UT to take advantage of the collection.

Are there any events going on at UT that you are excited about?

There’s so much going on this week, such as William Cheng and Colin Roust’s campus visits. One thing that I am very excited about is that I’m hoping to bring 2-3 musical theatre scholars to campus next year. The talks will be spread out over the year so it provides some space between them and allows people who attend to think across the papers but not in a concentrated conference or colloquium type situation. Personally I’m really excited about that because not only is my new research project really focused on musical theatre but also I’m teaching a new course called “Musicals in American Culture.” It will be a UGS course in the Fall of 2017. So there’s a nice synergy between research and teaching already, and then bringing in guests will be great. Also, I think that American musical threatre is an area that often slips between the cracks in schools of music. There are a lot of people interested in the topic, either from a research or performance perspective but you have to get at it through opera, or popular music classes or something like that. I think that devoting some really attention to the topic will be exciting.

Why did you choose to get involved with the Center for American Music?

I think that what the Center for American Music does and can do is very exciting. I think it’s a real asset to a number of programs at the Butler School of Music. It has the potential to put UT on the map as a real hot spot for studying, performing, and thinking about American Music. UT already is a great place to do that, but the center can solidify that and give it a more national reputation.

Dr Hannah Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Texas, at Austin and a board member of the Center for American Music.

You can learn more about Ernest Lehman at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin campus.