Jules Odendahl-James, Ph.D.
Director of Academic Engagement, Arts & Humanities
To learn a bit more about me and my career at Duke, check out my Blue Devil of the Week profile.
I earned my Master of Fine Arts degree in theater and dance from the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, my directing training focused on feminist performance theory and art-making practices with a particular focus on queer and transgender performance artists and playwrights. I founded a theater company, Bold Maids Productions, and worked in collaboration with Austin’s Hyde Park Theatre to produce and direct plays by Kate Borenstein, Holly Hughes, Maria Irene Fornes, and Claire Chafee.
I hold a doctorate in Performance Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Communication Studies. My doctoral research on media representations of women who challenge social roles and the performance of gender expanded into an ongoing inquiry about the ethics of embodiment in documentary media, particularly those stories that explore traumatic and violent events. That work led me to another domain of study regarding collaborations between scientists and artists on issues that extend across disciplinary fields and engage urgent matters of social action such as climate change, disability justice, and health equity.
As a Director of Academic Engagement, I mentor students from first year to senior year about the unique challenges and opportunities they face as they decide what kind of role the humanities and/or the arts will play in their Duke journey and beyond. My own educational and professional path has been shaped by an ability to move between theory and practice, analysis and action, expert and novice. An ability to take both a macro- and micro- perspective makes me particularly adept at helping students see connections across their many fields of interest: personal, intellectual, social, and civic. I enjoy collaborating with students to develop robust habits of work, to develop a network of mentors, to navigate the often bewildering array of opportunities at Duke, and to replace FOMO with NEMO (Not Exactly Missing Out) -- a curated selection of engagements you pursue based on your own, unique aspirations and inspirations.
I am the co-Director of Story+, a six-week, paid, qualitative research opportunity for students and chair the faculty committee for the Beneson Award in the Arts, a summer grant to support the work and training of student artists. I also serve as the faculty advisor for the Me Too Monologues (since 2012) and the Duke ASL club (since 2019). My recent teaching has been within the Science and the Public FOCUS cluster (Performing Science), in Visual Media Studies (Visual Cultures of Medicine), and for Theater Studies topics courses in Acting, Dramatic Literature (Playing Doctor), Performance Studies (Medical Stories on Stage), and I have directed or served as dramaturg for multiple mainstage productions.
Outside of Duke, I am a professional theater artist who has been making work in the Southeast since 1997 as a dramaturg and director. I served as an Associate Artistic Director for Durham’s much beloved Manbites Dog Theatre (founded by Duke faculty Jeffrey Storer) from 2014 until the closure of their space in 2018, directing critically acclaimed productions of Meg Miroshnik’s The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life, and Jen Silverman’s The Moors. In 2019, I joined a handful of other Durham artists to found Bulldog Ensemble Theater. I am a long-time dramaturg/collaborator with playwright Jaqueline E. Lawton (Associate Professor of Playwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill) and directed the world premiere of her play The Edges of Time in March of 2021 at Playmakers Repertory Company.