Jessica Bickel-Barlow (left) was selected as a Marshall Scholar and will pursue consecutive master’s degrees in literature and drama in England and Scotland. Claire Dillon (right) was named to the 12-member class of the George J. Mitchell Scholars and will study contemporary and medieval art history, human rights and island studies in Ireland.
Jessica Bickel-Barlow, a Northwestern University alumna with a lifelong passion for Shakespeare and collaborative theater, and Claire Dillon, an emerging art historian, educator and Northwestern graduate, were awarded signature scholarships to study in the United Kingdom and Ireland, respectively.
Bickel-Barlow was selected as a Marshall Scholar and will pursue consecutive master’s degrees in literature and drama in England and Scotland. Dillon was named to the 12-member class of the George J. Mitchell Scholars and will study contemporary and medieval art history, human rights and island studies in Ireland.
The coveted Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, designed to train future leaders, both promote partnerships, peace and greater cultural understanding between Britain, Ireland and the United States.
Bickel-Barlow, who graduated with a double major in English literature and in radio, television and film at Northwestern, will study how collaboration shaped Renaissance drama and how those early modern theatrical practices might be used in today’s world.
The budding artistic director aims to start a theater company founded on a philosophy designed to open art to diverse voices. Based upon her research, she will partner with leading research and artistic institutions in the U.K. and the U.S.
“We have the potential to make modern productions of classic theater more inclusive by using the theatrical conventions of the early modern era,” Bickel-Barlow said. “Just as Shakespeare’s magician-scholar Prospero holds his power in his books, so do I propose invigorating theater through academia.”
For Dillon, the Mitchell Scholarship offers her a rare opportunity to combine her interests, which include using visual materials as tools for social change, storytelling and community engagement.
“Medievalists are typically not known for their engagement with contemporary issues,” Dillon wrote in her application. “I want to change this by pursuing a graduate degree in medieval studies to research the political and cultural power of art objects, both in their original contexts and in their changing significance across time and space.”
Dillon graduated with honors from Northwestern in 2014 with a degree in art history and Italian. She also spent semesters studying in Bologna, Italy, and Havana, Cuba.
The Marshall Scholarship is designed to train future leaders with a lasting understanding of British society. It also aims to strengthen the relationship between the British and American peoples, their governments and institutions. Last year, 943 students applied for 31 scholarships.
The Marshalls were established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks to the people of the United States for assistance they received under the Marshall Plan after World War II.
The increasingly popular Mitchell Scholarship, founded in 1998, was named to honor former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's pivotal contribution to the Irish peace process.
Up to 12 Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one academic year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland. Applicants are judged on scholarship, leadership and a sustained commitment to community and public service.
Jessica Bickel-Barlow: At King’s College London, Bickel-Barlow plans to enroll in the Shakespeare Studies program, to build upon her previous studies at Northwestern. As an undergraduate, Bickel-Barlow studied the writings of Shakespeare and his writing partner John Fletcher; she now wishes to expand her research by looking at the collaboration between the writers, their companies and their audiences.
Bickel-Barlow will pursue a second master’s in directing Classical and Contemporary Text at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to help translate her newfound knowledge about original stagecraft into exciting performances for modern audiences. “The two programs address the same textual material through different fields of study and will together create an interdisciplinary approach to Renaissance drama,” she said.
At Northwestern, Bickel-Barlow wrote her senior thesis on "Maiden Texts: Female Sexuality and Male Authorship in William Shakespeare and John Fletcher."
An alumna of the Kaplan Humanities Scholars program, she was among the highest-achieving English majors and won three prizes in the department, including consecutive junior and senior awards for “best literature major.”
“Jessica is a true intellectual and scholar, with her eye on how scholarly knowledge can ‘play’ onstage,” said Jeffrey Masten, a professor of English and gender and sexuality studies at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “With her experience in Renaissance drama as both a critical thinker and as a director and performer, there's no one better to bring together critical scholarship on Shakespeare and his contemporaries with onstage performance."
Bickel-Barlow has loved Shakespeare since she was a first-grader and attended a ballet set to Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Growing up in St. Louis, she regularly attended the yearly Shakespeare festival with her family and liked to read scenes from the play “A Midsummers Night’s Dream” with her best friend.
"Ever since I performed in my first Shakespeare play, I have felt the magic of sharing ideas with an audience,” said Bickel-Barlow, who was 11 years old when she was cast as Dromio of Ephesus in a children’s production of “The Comedy of Errors.”
She grew interested in collaborative theatrical work after taking a literature course that teaches Shakespeare through performance as part of the University of Texas Shakespeare at Windale program.
At Northwestern, as a director for Lipstick Theater, Northwestern’s feminist student theater company, she used rehearsal techniques she learned at Windale to amplify the voices of women artists.
“We live in a time when audiences are more drawn to choruses of voices than soloists,” she said. “The institution of authorship, like that of scholarship, has at times excluded the voices of others, but I believe bringing the two institutions together will unlock the gates of both.”
Claire Dillon: A strong advocate for the arts and human rights, Dillon’s work with academic research and documentary photographers received national and international recognition.
Her award-winning research projects range from an oft-neglected folio in the 7th-century Book of Durrow to the work of Cuban-American contemporary artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
In Ireland, beyond study, Dillon plans to explore the political implications of Irish medieval history as carried out in discussions of national culture and identity, especially during the Easter Rising centenary, a program to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 armed insurrection in Ireland to end British rule.
“I find the rhetoric of otherness historically applied to both medieval and minoritized peoples to have provocative similarities,” Dillon wrote. “My work with art history and human rights has equipped me with connections between contemporary political interests and the world of medieval art.”
Dillon is the director of education and outreach at ART WORKS Projects, a Chicago-based nonprofit that raises awareness about human rights issues by creating and touring multimedia exhibits in 26 countries.
At ART WORKS, Dillon curates and tours exhibits, runs arts advocacy workshops for students, and works to expand a growing network of international grassroots collaborators.
She previously supported human rights advocacy and diversity initiatives through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, the Northwestern University Community for Human Rights and Right To Be Free and as co-founder of Project ShoutOUT, a student organization that represents intersectional and overlooked queer issues.
Dillon also is passionate about art education and research, having worked for Art Journal, artist Marco Nereo Rotelli, the Block Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, among other institutions in the Chicago area and abroad.