New Faculty
Eng-Beng Lim Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Eng-Beng Lim
Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies

By Sarah Kidwell  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

In Singapore, where Eng-Beng Lim was born and raised, most children can readily recite the Five C’s: cash, car, credit card, condominium, and country club, a reflection of what he calls the “national narrative of materialism.” Lim jokes that his siblings appeared to take the Five C’s more to heart than he did — they’re now stockbrokers, accountants and business people.

Creativity may not be one of the Five C’s, but it’s been the focus of Lim’s life, with an emphasis on performance.

“Ever since I was a child I was involved in live performance — poetry recitals, oratorical competitions, drama festivals, Chinese rituals, directing shows, singing in my high school choir. I even played the clarinet.”

That made his decision to major in theater at the National University of Singapore a fairly simple one. “I was drawn to performance as a site of inquiry and as a way to understand all kinds of relationships, interactions, and exchanges,” he says, ”and I was particularly interested in the issues of race and sexuality.”

This interest continued in graduate school at the University of California–Los Angeles, where he received his Ph.D. in theatre and critical studies. He characterizes his dissertation as an exploration of Asian performance broadly defined as a function of queer encounters traced through the white man/native boy dyad. It’s now the subject of his book, Tropic Spells: Performing Queer Encounters in the Asias.

Does his field of study raise eyebrows? Lim emits an extended laugh. “Oh yes, definitely. The topic of homoeroticism is still a very charged issue in traditional art forms, but it is linked to the question of colonial legacies in transnational performance.”

Previous teaching assignments include the University of Washington–Seattle, SUNY–Purchase and most recently Michigan State. Lim calls his new post at Brown — assistant professor of theatre arts and performance studies — his “dream job.” Brown is attractive he says, because of its nontraditional approach to higher education. “I know Brown students are very open to critical inquiry around sexuality and I want to add to that conversation.”

Lim has travelled widely, always learning from performance in every locale. “I’ve attended the opera in Bratislava and Krakow, seen Sufi dancing in Cairo and Istanbul, watched ethnic minorities perform rituals in China and Tibet, seen plays in Vienna and Brooklyn, and witnessed the pride parades of London, New York and Los Angeles. I’m very interested in international and transnational interactions and the kind of connectivity we share across the world,” he says.

Back in Singapore, his father is not completely sure the academy is the “most profitable enterprise,” Lim says wryly. Lim says he tells his father, as well as his siblings and extended family who are now scattered around the world, about his work in humanistic terms. “I say it’s important in helping to constitute critical conciousness and alternative perspectives so that we can build communities of understanding that are open-minded about differences, whether they be sexual, ethnic, or class. I think they appreciate this part of my spiel.”