Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

I came to theatre and performance as an outsider. Never cast in the school plays or meaningfully involved in the drama club, I didn’t take a single theatre class until I was a junior in college. But this latency in the development of my theatrical practice has given me the critical distance necessary to pursue a fruitful study of the genre, beginning in my first acting class (taken with freshman as a “wizened” elder), through attainment of a Master of Arts in what was for all intents and purposes dramaturgy, and finally into the period where I currently find myself, wherein I explore what it means to create. My findings through this unintentionally self-imposed but fortuitous experience of Verfremdungseffekt?

Theatre is trust.

From trust that every participant will carry out their unique portion of the event to the trust that the audience will follow you on the piece’s journey, theatre both invites and necessitates trust between every person involved in the preparatory, performance, and reflective events. I have learned (though slowly) to hold this trust out to folks in creating work, and I am constantly left, mouth-gaping, in awe at the insightful and poetic responses I’m offered as a result. And the same holds true for my experience in the classroom. My goal as a teacher is to empower students to engage with material I can introduce in ways that expand and enhance their personal growth as artists and as human beings, which I find is, of course, often one in the same thing. I encourage direct confrontation with source material rather than through secondary or tertiary scholarship, as I feel that this is where I have always found myself entering into the most meaningful conversations with the field of work. Along those lines, I also frequently ask that students keep a guided journal where they can respond to and critique as they see fit the authors and creators we encounter, and I always invite creative or multi-media responses as part of the course work so that students are given space to enter practically  into dialogue with the tradition of questioning being studied in whatever way feels best to them. I know first-hand that there is not one “theatre person” just as there is not one “theatre” to be made, so I am interested in teaching as an inclusionary act and in engaging with a diverse student body.

The other side of this coin of course is, as suggested above, that often the work with which students reply to my trust outdistances my own limited understandings of what is possible. In my very first teaching experience, for example, at a sleep-away camp in Connecticut, I directed a 45-minute long version of Disney’s The Lion King Jr. to a cast of 5 and 6 year old campers, the vast majority of whom had never participated in theatre before. Not only did they all learn their lines on time and perform beautifully, shocking even their own parents with their creative persistence and ability to interpret the characters, but they also demonstrated incredible agency, capacity, and drive far beyond what I would have expected of any age group. Their hunger was palpable, and, perhaps selfishly even, I try to carry that knowledge with me into every class; if I challenge students in just the right way, their perspectives and the consequent work that they produce will further inform my own capacity to create, and the cycle of teacher to student to teacher will turn.

As an artist in my own right, I try to listen for what form of expression the idea wants, and to trust that creating from there rather than imposing form before content will take me and the work somewhere constructive. This leads me to create and co-create work that I hope is nuanced and considerate, as I am always always thinking about what my pieces will “mean” for any given audience who might encounter it. I began by working as a director for straight theatre pieces, and then moved into theatre criticism in the course of pursuing my M.A. This experience confirmed in me that theory and practice are united, and I am indebted to makers like Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal, and Samuel Beckett and to theoreticians such as Theodore Adorno, Antonio Gramsci, and Roland Barthes for inspiration if not directly for tactics.. Political engagement is at the core of my personal practice, as I believe in the agency of small collectives to effect change in the world through a greater effort at communication and proliferation of communal spirit. To this end, today I create work that ranges from writing and performing monologues as I did for the interdisciplinary dance piece (Mis)educated, to one-person drag shows as in “On Progress” with Professor S. O. Teric III, to highly technical installation pieces featuring projections and interactive video components as in my most recent work on the collaboration I heard an echo, which was created as a site specific piece for the Historic Hunter Fly Road house from the 1930s at the Weeksville Heritage Center.

I work in art because I need to believe in order to survive; I need to feel that there is always something more to be known and that there is always something new to be discovered; I need to trust. My experience is that theatre, and in particular teaching theatre, offers me that promise. My hope is that where need recognizes need, I am able to nourish confidence and craft.