ACC Drama Faculty Spotlight Yunina Barbour-Payne



Where are you from? What is your educational background?

I am originally from Louisivlle, Kentucky. I attended the Youth Performing Arts School in highschool and then pursued an Integrated Studies degree from Northern Kentucky University where I majored in Theatre, Dance, Black Studies and Psychology. From there, I moved to Texas to pursue a Masters of Art in Performance Studies at Texas A&M University. I am currently a doctoral student in the Performance as Public Practice Program at the University of Texas at Austin. 

How did you become interested in theater?

From as early as I can remember theater and dance were huge parts of my upbringing. My mother saw that I was a very active and expressive child, so for her the solution to channeling all of that youthful energy was the arts. I started in competitive dance and my drama experience came from my schooling. From Elementary to High School, I attended schools which focused on the performing arts. Outside of school, I was also blessed to be among a community of artists from a young age. I spent every weekend heavily influenced by specifically Black artists in my community through the Black Achievers Program  and Whitney M. Young Scholars program. Those artists trained me classically  and instilled in me the principles for art making and the invaluable history associated with Black Arts Practices. 

Can you tell us a bit about the PHD Performance as Public Practice program? What interested you about the program?

The Performance as Public Practice program, or “PPP,” as we affectionately call it, is a wonderful space for scholars like myself who have strong practical backgrounds in the arts as well as a curiosity in the cultural  perspectives of art-making nationally and globally. My interest in the program was sparked by the interdisciplinary collaboration in the department. When I visited a Performance Ethnography course taught by Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, my interest in the program  grew out of my strong inclicionait toward scholar / artistry and the diversity of scholarship and performance pieces the alumni  and current students undertake. 

You also have a passion for Theater for Youth. How did that begin?

In undergrad, I worked as an Intern in the Education Department at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. There I performed and did research on historical figures who were freedom fighters during the Civil War Era. It was that experience where my work with theater for and with youth began intimately. Since that time, it has grown from performing for young audiences, to writing plays for youth and training youth. When I moved to Houston after graduate school at Texas A&M, I began writing plays for the Ensemble Theatre’s Young Performers ProgramWelcome – The Ensemble Theatre – Houston, Texas. I saw the plays as an opportunity to both train young artists but also share the values and legacies that were imparted to me as a young Black performer myself.  

You also have extensive experience as a performer, dramaturg, director, and playwright? What productions have you most recently done? What work have you recently directed or written?

My most recent summer projects include dramaturging for Gesel Mason Performance Projects  dance theater piece Yes, And and performing at the National Black Theater Festival.  Yes,And focuses on collaborating with Black Women artists and has been a project I’ve been working with intimately as a dramaturg and performer since the pandemic started. This year our work has been presented at the Fusebox Festival here in Austin and most recently at the Hillwood estates this past July.

I also just came back from performing at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston- Salem North Carolina. This festival is held every two years and invites theater artists from around the world to attend the event and witness the arts. There, I performed with my Houston home Theatre Company, The Ensemble Theatre’s production of Monsa Ra’s Too Heavy for your Pocket. You can get a taste of  our show Too Heavy for Your Pocket here: 

What are common themes in your creative work? What do you feel is important for people to know about your work?

The themes common in my work involve survival (creative, embodied and lived) place, history (living and embodied)  and community. The important thing to know about my work, is that at the center, regardless of if I am performing, dramaturging, writing or directing,  I desire to honor the people, places and ancestral legacies that have brought me to the work and this moment. 

Where have you taught theatre? How long have you been teaching in the ACC Drama Department, and what classes have you taught

I’ve taught Theater Theory and History as an Instructor and Teaching artist to students across an age spectrum for over ten years. I’ve taught in institutions, trained artists at theater companies as well as in the community. Prior to joining ACC Drama teaching staff last year, I taught  at Northern Kentucky University, Texas A&M University, Yes Prep Public Schools, The Ensemble Theatre and University of Texas at Austin.  

You have acted in 2 ACC Drama productions- Harry and the Thief and Everybody. How were those experiences?

I absolutely loved those experiences! I think the gift of ACC Drama is that I’ve gotten to play roles in a broad range! From playing God in Branden Jacob Jenkins Everybody to a Mad Black Scientist in Sigrid Gilmer’s Harry and the Thief, it has been a gift to play in those very different and fun worlds! I also love the collaborators in the room, in both processes there was a lot of trust and care for everyone involved which makes playing and taking risks on stage easier! 

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

The best career advice I ever received was from my 10th grade theater teacher who always said “Sometimes life is just as simple as showing up.” 

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working with Penfold Theater on their fall production of A MidSummer’s Night’s Dream

What are your future plans/projects in the work?

I’d love to work on a collaborative Dance Theater New Works piece  about stories from my home state inspired by some Affrilachian literature that I love. 

— Photo Credit Kathryn Lane Photography

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