When Bailey Sincox (English ‘15) played Adriana in her middle school production of “The Comedy of Errors”, she found William Shakespeare cool: “I thought, ‘This is fun and quirky and we get to talk about inappropriate things!’”
Not every 7th grader is so drawn to Shakespeare, but neither is every college graduate. Sincox, who is pursuing a Master of Studies in English Language and Literature at Oxford, is still absorbed in Shakespeare's work. And while the middle school taboos featured in Shakespeare’s plays no longer motivate her interest, his spirit and “visceral energy” still do.
Despite her refined nature and eloquence, that’s what Sincox exudes: energy. She converses with liveliness and curiosity, enthusiastically promotes the humanities, and boasts a killer impression of President Brodhead. Her cadence is balanced and engaging and energetic all at once: her ability, in short, is one of storytelling. And she has used her skill across her time at Duke and beyond, from directing a production of “The Tempest” in the Gardens to orchestrating a gallery exhibition at Duke for visiting Colombian undergraduate artists.
Sincox’s experience in the English department at Duke fed her fascination with storytelling. “I’ve learned how to communicate the things that I care about,” she says. In developing arguments and crafting narratives in her classes, Sincox expanded her ability to speak clearly and critically. She is thankful for this in her post-grad life, particularly during meetings where, she says, “as a 22-year old petite woman, I’m sparring with 60-year old men. And they ask me what I studied.”
In addition to sharpening her ability to communicate and engage, Sincox’s Duke career shifted her storytelling process in new directions. She thanks Professor Thomas Ferraro for having set an invaluable example in scholarship and storytelling. In her conversations with him, she realized that “everything is worth observing.”
“I used to think that being a scholar meant that you knew the intellectual things,” she says. “But I realized later that it means observing and cataloguing the life around you. It’s about having your eyes open all the time.”
When she visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, this summer, Sincox observed closely. She stumbled upon manuscripts about Ira Aldridge, a black Shakespearian actor in 19th century America who, after facing relentless discrimination, left for Britain. He became a renowned actor in Europe and is now honored at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in England. Bailey was struck by his story and the plight of “the stories that have been lost.”
“I’m compelled by stories that were silenced,” Sincox says.
Spending time at the Folger Library prompted the recent Duke graduate to change her dissertation plans at Oxford. She now hopes to to study black actors performing Shakespeare. And she encourages others, including students pursuing their undergraduate degrees at Duke, to spend their time where they want to spend it, too. “It’s important to block out the conversations that other people are having – parents, peers, etcetera. What you need to ask yourself is: what is it that you lose track of time doing? And then do that.”