Meiling Cheng is professor of dramatic arts in theatre critical studies at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Dr. Cheng came to this country in 1986 to study at the Yale University School of Drama, where she received her MFA degree in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism in 1989 and DFA degree in Theatre Arts in 1993. At Yale, she worked as a dramaturg with August Wilson on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Piano Lesson, and with the MacArthur Award-winning director Lee Breuer on The Warrior Ant. She also dramaturged for the Pulitzer-winning playwright Lyn Nottage and the Creative Artists Award-winning playwright Brighde Mullins.
Dr. Cheng won her first substantial foundation grant from Asian Cultural Council to fund her last year (1988-89) of MFA study at Yale. Asian Cultural Council also offered her a Dissertation Fellowship (1990-93) to subsidize her pursuit of a doctoral degree at Yale. During the three years while she worked on her dissertation, she was also the recipient of the Bass Fellowships (1991-92) and the Newhouse Fellowships in Writing (1992-93) to teach at the Yale College, the Department of Theatre Studies.
Dr. Cheng began her full-time academic career in 1993 as an assistant professor of theatre arts at Mount Holyoke College. She moved to Los Angeles in 1994 for her appointment as assistant professor of theatre at the University of Southern California and in 2000 was promoted to associate professor, with tenure. She became a full professor in 2015. With her first promotion, Dr. Cheng began holding an administrative position as the director of critical studies at the USC School of Theatre and in 2019 was promoted to area head of critical studies.
In 2007, Dr. Cheng received an honorary joint appointment from the English Department of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences to recognize her interdisciplinary scholarships and her work with its Ph.D. students. Since 2015, she has also enjoyed a joint appointment as professor of arts in the USC Roski School of Arts and Design. In addition, she is affiliated faculty with USC/UCLA’s East Asian Studies Center, USC’s American Studies and Ethnicity program and Gender Studies program. She is also part of the core faculty for USC’s Performance Studies Graduate Certificate program.
Dr. Cheng is an award-winning poet and essayist, having published numerous poems, short stories, personal essays, and art criticism articles in English and Chinese. She has received numerous competitive research awards from the University of Southern California, including the Southern California Studies Center’s Junior Faculty Research Award and the James H. Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund (twice) and the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award for scholarly distinction and research creativity. Additionally, Dr. Cheng received several curatorial and writing awards, including the SC/W 2000 Exposition Award and The Arts Initiative Award.
The nexus of Dr. Cheng’s research is interdisciplinary performance and live art studies, an area of expertise she cultivated by integrating a strong visual art orientation to her doctoral training in contemporary and avant-garde theatres. Her first book, In Other Los Angeleses: Multicentric Performance Art, examines the minoritarian subject formation and the confluence of visuality and theatricality in live art activities in Los Angeles. The book demonstrates her critical methodology, combining live art critique, fieldwork, archival analysis, oral history, and theoretical contextualization. Her second book, Beijing Xingwei: Contemporary Chinese Time-Based Art, draws on this critical approach and further incorporated her self-invented methodology—multicentricity—to investigate another intriguing metropolitan sociocultural site, Beijing. Centering on time-based art, Beijing Xingwei presents an innovative approach to performance and installation artworks by delineating traces of temporality on them. Collaborating with her Yale classmate, Dr. Gabrielle Cody, Dr. Cheng’s coedited critical anthology, Reading Contemporary Performance: Theatricality Across Genres, expands her theory of the theatrical matrix to organize a plethora of essays elucidating key concepts in performance studies.
Dr. Cheng has lectured internationally on performance art, visual and kinetic theatre, feminist writing and performance, live art, and installations in Singapore, Honolulu, London, Boston, Providence, Chicago, Toronto, Palo Alto, New York, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Leeds, Madison, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Taipei. She curated, directed, and performed in various live art events, including The Birth of Seven Documented Performances (2020) by Yan Xing in Los Angeles; ArtTrend International Performance Festival (2017) in Tainan, Taiwan, and The Unerasable (2012) by Liu Ding in the Taipei Biennial; Somagraphs: Three Poems (2010) in Feminaisance Poetry Reading in Los Angeles; On the Edge: West Coast Performance Art in the Americas (2004) in Seattle, and Urbanecology (2001), osseus labyrint: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis (2001), Mediated Asias (2000), and Sonic Capsules: A Poetry Performance Concert (1998) in Los Angeles. Her articles on live art, alien body art, performance and installation have appeared in journals such as TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, Performance Research, TheatreForum, Text and Performance Quarterly, Performance Paradigm, Theatre Journal, Public Art Review, and Positions: Asia Critique. She has also contributed pieces for over two decades to anthologies including Performing the Body/Performing the Text, The Artist’s Body, and The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, Images: A Reader, Reading Contemporary Performance, and Imagined Theatres. And, with Rolf Hoefer and Claudia Bucher, Dr. Cheng founded the performance collective, the Museum of OMMMMM/MoOM.
At USC School of Dramatic Arts, Dr. Cheng has taught various courses in theatre history, dramatic literature, contemporary kinesthetic theatre, and intermedia art, in addition to cultural and visual studies. Her signature course, “Theatre on the Edge/ToE,” has produced several classes of award-winning student artists.