“Breathing Life into the Narrative”
When approaching the Arts, either as an actor, director, playwright or even as a spectator, there is not one technique that fits each person’s personal aesthetics or interests. In the realms of theatrical performance exists a platform for artists to explore their own roots, questions about morality and society, and spirituality. This is the basis of my performative and outreach initiatives: creating an environment for individuals that is free from predispositions and limitations. Through the idea of experiential learning, I have adapted a skill set and practice that will provide an open forum for non-theatrical individuals to explore their own artistic and leadership interests using Stanislavski, Boalian (Theatre of the Oppressed), Solo Performance, and Improvisational techniques.
Being a Woman of Color performer for over 20 years, I have had my fair share of artistic rejections. Not solely based on my race or ethnicity, but because the entertainment industry is so saturated with the overt glamification of women. We have these superficial reality shows displaying more of a distortion of “reality” than the truth! Be taller! Be skinnier! Walk like this, act like that… Let me tell you, there are days when I ponder over the career choice of being an artist. I told myself “you have something to say! Your story and testimony should be heard and hopefully accepted.” Your gift is not only performing but speech. How could I best use my gifts? Public speaking? Outreach? Writing a book? I love seeking out the answers and strength to keep trucking at it on a daily basis. I revel in finding ways that set me apart from other people and artists. Sounds cheesy but it is the truth.
There is an artist in each and every one of us. Your medium may not be acrylic paint or a playscript but your talent and skill set are what makes you a creator.
Over the course of the three years I was an instructor at the University of Georgia, my approaches to education always centered around providing a sacred space for discovery, exploration, and individuality. I have instructed/workshopped undergraduate courses in Acting for Non-Majors, History of African-American Theatre, Characterization, Solo Performance, and provided youth community-based workshops in audition prep and personal/artistic development. As a teacher, I see myself first and foremost, as a collaborator with each individual student in their creative process.
In each of us is a story: this story has been influenced by many stories throughout our lives. We are inspired by the people we meet, things we do, places we go, our observations—all of these elements contribute to our narrative. My focus as an educator is providing an unbiased platform and sacred space for individuals to breathe life into their own narratives. In each of us are memories that are longing to be released: images ingrained on our brain that we no longer have access to or simply things that are in us that we want to let go of. These memories are thoughts that cloudy our judgments or even anecdotes that we want to share. I sometimes view my courses as therapeutic, in the aesthetic sense moreso than clinical, by allowing a person to unlock their inner artist. Of course, I met with the opposition: I am not an artist: I can’t draw or sing or act, so this work is not for me. I explain to them: creation can be physical or spiritual; every step taken creates a rip in time, a gust of wind. A smile, for instance, creates a chain of peace and respect. Laughter can produce joy, anger could create chaos, and so forth. Each exquisite individual is a walking piece of art that was formed from their experiences and choices.
Learning Objectives for Students- Primary course objectives: 1) develop the student’s observational skills towards life, its experiences, towards artistic sensibility, and towards becoming a more informed audience member; 2) to introduce the student to the basic imaginative, physical and vocal skills necessary for acting.
My philosophy is all about giving yourself permission to think beyond the confines of your mind. There are perceptions of “what makes something art” and what is deemed as “good art”. I say to that “good art makes you wonder. Good art makes you think about the moment before and after.” Each piece of art, performative, visual, or audial, has its own history. I start many of my classes, for Theatre majors and non-majors, with the following question: what is your story? There is a distinct correlation between artistic expression and interpersonal development.
As artists, we are influenced and inspired by the flow of life around us. From the headlines to social media, even in our own homes, our own histories ignite a spark for creativity. There is a healing power to displaying these stories on a presentational scale. Not only does theatre provide a platform to explore these relevant issues in a performance arena, the exemplified environment serves as a heightened playground for our 2D media counterparts. The material of our work is hybridized through engagement with diverse arrays of genres, disciplines, and art forms. I thrive to have a modern classroom that respectfully challenges theory and application. In this way, there is an interplay of diversity among its cultural, physical, disciplinary fragments and aids as a mirror of representation.
Teaching Methods and Strategies- While there is no ‘one style fits all’ classroom, I implore the following methods and strategies in my performance/studio courses. Depending on the content of the course, adjustments are made:
Methods for Assessing Students’ Learning- In theatre classrooms, student growth and comprehension of learning objectives are measured through physical application and discipline-based and written performance tasks. With clear goals and assessments, I capitalize on the teaching potential of a wide range of theatre activities and theories. Although theatre games are appealing exercises, by themselves they are not a remedy for generating student interest and enhancing success. Every classroom activity and exercise should always be viewed in the context of targeted learning outcomes.
Assessment practices for lecture-based or interactive seminars:
· Create pre-assessments
· Create scoring guides to assess mastery
· Assess during instruction
· Teach students to do peer and self-assessment
Approaches to Leadership
Effective leadership requires the leader’s qualities and skills to connect with people and their needs as well as the needs of the leadership situation. As an educator, we stimulate creativity through problem solving and challenge our students' perceptions about their world and themselves. Like all the arts, theatre allows students to communicate and understand others in new ways. No art form is more truly collaborative. Drama is an important tool for preparing students to live and work in a world that is increasingly team-oriented rather than individual-driven.
Beyond the academic setting, I have worked in numerous leadership positions ranging from Director of Special Projects and Quality Assurance to Head of Outreach for multiple nonprofit organizations. At the University of Georgia, I was accepted into the Graduate School Emerging Leaders program in 2017. Each year, they recruit only 20 individuals from a pool of over 150 applicants to partake on a yearlong leadership development opportunity. In this program, we were aided in gaining insight into our own personal leadership styles, develop skills necessary for entering a workplace characterized by diversity of people, and plan for future career opportunities. We concluded on our journey, by developing action projects on campus or in our local community that demonstrated these skills and approaches.
By mentoring and teaching over the years, I have noticed that many young adults establish their personal aesthetics and interpersonal skills at a very early age. Furthermore, I believe by providing resources and opportunities for our youth and young adult population to utilize their own distinctive histories and experiences, we can foster a new set of individuals built on confidence and artistic integrity. I have a vision of a thriving creative global workplace and its primary focus will be implementing professional development and cultural enrichment courses on the higher and secondary education spectrum. This vision supports creative critical thinking, effective public speaking, and entrepreneurship. Targeting our rapid youth population early, such as in HS junior and seniors, with tools that will further complement them in their adult expedition is how “leaders making leaders” is born. Initially starting in high schools that unfortunately have lost theatrical or any type of arts-based academic classes.