I teach because I am passionate about learning and sharing that love for learning with others.
I lead by example and model the values and behavior I expect from my students. I treat them with respect, and they return that respect; I am honest and expect honesty in return; I am punctual and work hard and expect the same from them. And I never ask students to do anything that I cannot nor would not do myself.
Passion, a positive attitude, and respect greatly enhance productivity, and they are invaluable in attracting and retaining students as well as faculty and staff.
For me, the foundation of a liberal education is thoughtful and informed discourse; therefore, the university must be a crucible for thought, a place where all ideas and questions are welcome, all thinking unrestricted. As a teacher and director, I share ideas, provoke thought, and welcome dissent. My students know that they can speak their minds freely—no issue or topic is taboo or verboten if it is relevant to the topic or task at hand.
I am always looking for ways to (re)integrate theatre with art and art with life. In my opinion, most Americans don’t value the arts because they see them as extraneous and irrelevant divertissements rather than as invaluable mirrors of the human experience in all its complexities. Certainly, the banal, gratuitous entertainment that characterizes so much television and film may be blamed, yet we in academia also are culpable: for the past century we have reduced artistic expression to specialized and arcane disciplines divorced from other “practical” academic disciplines and, worse, from daily life. The result is “art in a vacuum.” To remove this vacuum and reintegrate art with life, we should think more holistically about how we design our classes; even better, we might create new, interdisciplinary courses, degree programs, and production seasons.
The key to teaching “academic” theatre courses, e.g., theatre history, theory, literature, and script analysis, is helping students discover the relevance of the material and providing them with opportunities for application. Perhaps my greatest success in teaching these courses has resulted from creating individual and team projects in which the students combine research and reflection with creative application, which then is shared with the rest of the class. These projects are low-stress and fun; they also enhance the students’ communication skills and provide opportunities for short-term, practical research that are perhaps as beneficial and certainly more enjoyable than traditional, protracted research papers.
I think that the main reason why so many students cannot write is that they do not read. I read and require that all of my students read, even in studio classes. I tend to avoid conventional textbooks and, instead, focus on primary materials that are rich with ideas, are well-written, provoke thinking, and trigger discussion.
Discussion can be great, but rarely does it accommodate all of the students’ voices, particularly the more reserved or introverted students. For most reading assignments, I ask that the students organize and articulate their responses in writing and then share their writing with the other students as well as with me. These writings enlist both objective and subjective responses to the material and provide an excellent springboard for classroom discussion.
I am a visual learner as are most of my students, so I include lots of visual resources, primarily Powerpoint presentations and video clips, so we can see together what we’re talking about.
While I feel no compulsion to entertain, I do believe that I must engage all of my students—their different learning styles, interests, goals, and values. If the result is “fun,” then so much the better!
Working with Students
Process comes first.
Sure, we all want a good product (and good shows!) but in educational theatre, nothing matters more than process. The end does not justify the means; the means are the end. Consequently, our choices and approaches must be student-focused and student-driven.
Create safe and positive environments in which to learn and create.
I never want you to leave a class or rehearsal furious or in tears or feel that you have been physically or psychologically manipulated by me as teacher or director.
Respect them and they will respect you.
I want to earn your respect and trust and will do so be treating you the way I would want to be treated by a teacher or director: fairly and impartially but with compassion and understanding.
Friendly but not friends.
There must be a division between our professional and personal lives. I will listen to you and support you but without becoming your “buddy” or “therapist”; this is particularly necessary when we are in a director/actor relationship.
Make learning and creating exciting.
Learning and creating are my passions, not just my jobs. There is no reason to undertake any project or class without considering how we might make it a pleasurable experience for everyone involved. I get excited about what we can do together, and I want to share my enthusiasm with you.
Creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.
We will approach classes and rehearsals as “team” endeavors during which I will guide the flow of our ideas and questions. I have no need or interest in being a puppeteer, sage, preacher, or dictator; let’s learn and create together. Know, however, that I will think and respond critically to our choices and expect you to do the same.
Make the students responsible and accountable for their own thinking and choices.
My responsibility as a teacher and director centers on knowing what to “ask” you rather than what to “tell” you. I don’t lecture, and I don’t give line readings. It may sound cliché, but you are our future. You must begin thinking for yourself and making your own decisions. How else will you be ready for life after college, much less a career in the theatre?
Plan your work and work your plan.
I wouldn’t want you to waste my time, so I will strive not to waste yours. My responsibility as a teacher and director includes planning and organizing our time together to be as productive and efficient as possible.
But, be flexible.
Not everything always works on schedule, particularly when collaboration is a priority. Syllabi and rehearsal schedules must reflect this and have some built in flexibility or buffer zones.
One size does not fit all.
Certain styles and approaches work for certain people; however, no one method or system works for everyone. We all have different learning styles and unique and valuable in which we can contribute and excel. And my commitment to “differentiation” applies to rehearsals as well as classes.
Think outside the box.
My interests as a thinking artist go far beyond realism and traditional theatre. While I appreciate and respect our past (I am a theatre historian after all), I have no interest in creating or perpetuating “museum” theatre (or pedagogy). In educational theatre, we must understand the past but prepare for a new and different future.
Look for the connections.
Vacuums not welcome. Many of my projects and approaches might be considered “interdisciplinary” rather than “theatre.” I am keenly interested in the inter-relatedness of all things, particularly the arts, which I see as our mirrors of the past and our barometers of the future.
And most importantly…
Keep a sense of humor.
So we have a “not-so-great” class, rehearsal, meeting, or performance. Life goes on. Tomorrow will come.