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Faculty member to "talk-back" on Broadway Aug. 22

Dr. Sharon Harrow has spent many years teaching students and making presentations at professional conferences, but on Aug. 22 she will face a new type of audience in a new venue — on Broadway.

Harrow, a professor of English who joined Shippensburg University in 2000, will give a “talk-back” at the end of the sold-out performance of “The Punishing Blow” at the Clurman Theatre on West 42nd Street in New York City. The invitation is the result of her expertise in 18th-century literature and sports, and her interest in the character in the play by Randy Cohen, a writer for the New York Times and an Emmy award winner.

Cohen’s play, according to the theatre’s website, is about a college professor arrested for drunken driving and an anti-Semitic rant who, as part of the case’s disposition, gives a lecture on a figure from a list of The 100 Most Influential Jews of All Time. The character chooses Daniel Mendoza, the 18th century British bare-knuckle boxing champion and father of “scientific boxing.”

Harrow is working on a book on the literature and culture of sport in 18th Century Britain that includes information on Mendoza. Her book is Sporting Culture: The Literature and Culture of British Sport in the Long Eighteenth Century.

“I’ve been in touch with Randy for about a year,” Harrow said. “ We’ve been in conversation about some research and he e-mailed me to let me know about the play and asked me if I’d like to speak as an expert on 18th Century sports and literature.”

Harrow, who is at ease in front of her students and her colleagues at professional conferences, admits she is excited — and nervous — about her approximately 30-minute presentation followed by audience questions. In addition to her regular teaching duties, “in the past 15 years or so I’ve given maybe two to three or even more presentations each year at conferences, but I never thought I’d be on Broadway. I actually think I’m over-prepared. I just hope no one throws rotten tomatoes!”

This will also be a bit different than her usual presentations. This one, she said, will be less scholarly and will try to provide the audience with more of the “good stories” they want to hear.

She also plans to incorporate the experience into her classes when the semester begins Aug. 30. “I teach the British literature survey course and I’ll be able to use to this engage the students and to help bring the course to life for them. This is kind of a gift that fell into my lap. I’ll also use it to help them think about the issues we have today and issues that we still deal with (such as anti-Semitism). We have famous people now who make similar comments (as the play’s main character) and I think this will resonate on a personal level for the students.”

It will also allow students in her interdisciplinary arts class this semester to see how such diverse areas as theatre, culture and sports were once merged. “Now,” she said,” we think of sports as by itself, separate from and theater but they were all interconnected and we can talk about how the media has merged today.”