At the center of my teaching philosophy is the exploration of theory and practice. This translates into a combination of lecture/discussion and practicum exercises. Especially in theatre, I believe students need a strong foundation of historical context, theoretical understanding, and “hands-on” experience in order to become artists in the theatre.
Theatre is a collaborative art and I believe in bringing the collaborative process to the classroom. Most often the collaborative atmosphere is established with group projects but it is also grounded in guest lectures, exploring the students areas of interest as well as honest and direct group critique. I always try to leave room for flexibility in my syllabus. I also use non-traditional assessment tools that reinforce the collaborative process such as my midterm for Stagecraft I, where I ask the class to create teams of three or more and we play Jeopardy. While also being a fun experience, the teams must think quickly and act together to complete the answers. The game resembles the practice of theatre because every individual must be prepared but act quickly and carefully as a group.
My role as an educator in theatre is to help students establish their aesthetics. I strive to maintain a learning environment that is conducive to meaningful inquiry and creativity that allows each student to build her/his confidence through proficient execution of theatrical concepts and conventions. Additionally, I strive to bring multiple viewpoints and aesthetics to the classroom with the goal of provoking strong reactions. I strive to use the strong reactions as a gateway for the students to refine their beliefs that in turn aid in the establishment of their aesthetics. Recently, a student struggled with Bertolt Brecht’s methodologies. For her birthday, her parent’s took her to her local regional theatre to see a play that was produced using several of Brecht’s methods (not/but, V-Effekt, and Gestus). The student happened to see her high school acting teacher at the play and began to discuss the play with her teacher. The teacher did not appreciate the production, but something about the production and the readings from class clicked. The student gained a new appreciation for Brecht and was excited to email me and reenter the discourse about Brecht and his methods.
My teaching does not stop at the end of class time. I understand that life experiences often outweigh the class experiences. I try not to morally judge student decisions to miss class or come late; instead preferring to use the experience as a teachable moment where the student can begin to understand consequences without judgment or failure. The teachable moment becomes especially important when working with the students in production. The teachable moment does not mean that I do not expect the students to exhibit hard work, concentration, and respect; rather it becomes an opportunity for one-on-one time with the student that incorporates our personal, academic, and professional experiences into the moment. It becomes an opportunity for both of us to learn about one another and to successfully navigate a challenge.
I believe in situating myself within the context of the moment and asking the student to do the same. Through situating ourselves in this way, I hope to expose our assumptions and fears as well as our passions and beliefs. Through this exposure, we can then begin to think and interact critically with the work. I admit that I struggle with my personal, political, academic, and artistic contradictions but I also endeavor to promote and engage in open-ended inquiry. A student once asked me how I, as a feminist and queer, could participate in a particular production that she identified as anti-feminist. The student’s question evoked a discourse between us that reaffirmed our personal, political, and artistic beliefs while also challenging us to use our feminist and queer methodologies to establish a multiplicity of views and meanings within the production. The student could then return to the production as an active member of the company rather than feeling marginalized by elements of the production.
Theatre engages its community and therefore I bring civic and personal responsibility into the classroom. From simply cleaning up after oneself to being on time; from respectful discussions of potentially divisive cultural concepts to producing provocative productions; or from sustainable practices to budgetary and time constraints, I reinforce the importance of respect for oneself and others.
I strive for life long learning. As an educator and artist, I believe in experiencing life to the fullest. I engage in new theatrical theories, techniques, and practices while also exploring alternative theories, histories, and art forms. I am constantly challenging myself in the classroom as well as in the theatre and I am not afraid to share my challenges with the students. I strive to lead by example, sharing with the students my passion and joy for theatre’s process as well as the commitment, collaboration, and skill/artistry I demand of myself in order to create theatre’s product. In a recent production at Willamette University, Beauty Queen of Leenane, I had an aesthetic and technical challenge of creating depth on stage while not using the traditional back light positions. I had a couple of ideas that I shared with my student lighting staff. The staff helped me setup experiments to find which of my ideas would be the best solution. We were able to speak about the differences in techniques as well as how those techniques would work with the production as a whole. All of us learned some valuable information regarding theatrical lighting and the students were able to witness the constant learning process that I strive to maintain as well as the collaborative ways in which I enjoy working.
From the classroom to the stage, I strive to create an atmosphere in which students are able to explore all that drives them personally, politically, and passionately. For as Minnie Bruce Pratt says, “…we can not move theory into action unless we can find it in eccentric and wandering ways of our daily life…. to give theory flesh and breath.”