I teach in order to share my passion for theatre. I believe performative acts and theatre permeate every aspect of our lives and that the creation, study, and experience of theatre is socially productive and at its best, transformative. I teach my students that theatre has the power to reflect and affect human relations in both the public and private spheres of our lives. I emphasize that theatre has a long and honorable history; that we stand at one point in the ongoing trajectory of time, and that theatre serves as a living record of our lives, our concerns, our values, and our understanding of what it means to be human.
I teach theatre as a collaborative art form. I emphasize individual responsibility to every member of the production as well as the individual responsibility of the actor, designer, director, and playwright to communicate a theme to her audience, and thereby, to society at large.
My day-to-day aim in the classroom is to keep students both intellectually and emotionally engaged. Because theatre is an art form that reflects our humanity, it is essential to engage both the mind and the heart. I aim to ignite a passion in students not only for the social practice of theatre but to see theatre as a forum to explore and express ideas. I achieve this through a number of ways. For text related courses, I select plays for study that provide students a wide breadth of genres and styles, from traditional works to plays and musicals that push the envelope of theatrical forms. I guide students to experience the plays (and by extension the practice of theatre) through a series of assignments and projects that require analytical skills, critical thinking, creativity, and live performance techniques. In the same way that theatre is a collaborative art form, I believe that the study of theatre yields tremendous results when students embody the work. Whether teaching physical movement or analytical processes, I attempt to combine the mind and the body. My work in the classroom is informed by my experience as a professional dancer/choreographer and theatre director. I have found that when the students’ bodies and minds are engaged simultaneously the learning process can be advanced. I often use theatre games and body awareness exercises in the classroom to enrich concentration and bring students fully to the present moment. This, of course, is fundamental in the teaching of acting, but I have found these exercises to also be phenomenal resources in helping students to focus in all courses. Body awareness games and exercises lighten the mood in the classroom and create an environment in which students feel free to speak up and contribute. At the same time I am a firm believer that the higher the bar is held, the higher the students will reach. I am at a place in my teaching career where I believe I am finding a balance between fun and (literally) games in the classroom, and truly challenging students when it comes to their class assignments. Students in my classes learn early on that I value excellence in both spoken and written communication, and I work hard to promote these values.
For textual and critical analysis classes, I allow students to work in groups and share perspectives, ideas, and discoveries. For some classes I have found it useful to challenge students by requiring them to perform segments from the plays we are studying. For other classes, particularly the diversity courses I teach, I require students to create original short plays modeled on the forms of the plays we are studying. These original work projects are an opportunity for students to express their personal perspectives and concerns. Through the process of crafting original pieces, students gain the ability to use theatre as a social platform for expression. Before embarking upon any play performance projects, we spend time in the classroom analyzing and discussing the plays I have selected for the course. I make participation in class discussion part of the overall grading, and encourage students to develop their oral communication skills through offering their responses to the plays in the public forum of the classroom. My goal is to create an atmosphere where students feel their ideas are welcome and respected.
I see my directing and choreographing student productions as part of my teaching. When I direct (and choreograph) a show I treat students just as I would treat professionals in an outside production, but I make time to explain choices concerning the patterns, timing, and the theatrical images we’re creating together. Some of my greatest experiences in teaching have been while directing a play or a musical. Working outside the classroom and being able to delve into the creative process can be a transformative experience for a student. I have seen students grow tremendously through the rehearsal process where they can explore their own creative impulses and apply performing techniques that they learn in classes. I believe that my professionalism and more than 25 years creating theatre offers them clear guidance, sound advice, and a perspective that allows them to explore, risk and grow.
As I have progressed the ranks from Assistant to Full Professor, I have had the opportunity to create a range of courses that explore diversity in the U.S. American theatre. These include: Performing Race, Gender and Sexuality, Contemporary LGBT Theatre: Queer People of Color, and Contemporary U.S.-Latina/o Theatre. Teaching these topics have allowed to stay abreast of current voices in the American Theatre and continually develop my skills of cultural competency.
I feel my greatest asset in the classroom is my own passion for theatre. When I am truly honest with my commitment and communicate my joy for the art form, students respond positively and this sets the foundation for the exploration of the human experience using theatre as a lens. Through teaching theatre, I aim to develop informed, conscientious, compassionate individuals who value ideas, knowledge, and the human community.