I grew up doing theatre, and so I experienced firsthand the profound impact of theatrical education on young people. For me, theatre was a creative outlet, a source of joy, and a safe space where I was always accepted. Many years later, I continue to be amazed by the diverse and far-reaching benefits of an education in the arts. Theatre rewards imagination and teaches children that there is more than one way to examine and solve a problem. It encourages empathy, builds self-esteem, promotes teamwork, and teaches students about setting – and achieving – goals.
A Process-Based Approach
Theatre – and learning in general – is an ongoing process, and so I always aim to be process-oriented in my teaching and directing. I focus not only on what students learn, but also how they are learning. The learning process should engage students with a variety of learning styles and intelligences; it should affirm each individual’s strengths and successes; it should challenge students to strive for excellence and push beyond their comfort zones; and most importantly, it should inspire them to take their learning beyond the classroom. A positive, enriching learning process will instill students with the confidence and drive to become life-long learners, creators, and change-makers.
I want my students to see themselves not only as individual learners, but also as citizens of a broader learning and artistic community. Theatre is one of the most ensemble-based and community-driven art forms that exists, but too many people think that youth theatre is about finding and cultivating “stars.” I believe that every student can find personal and artistic success in theatre. I aim to meet my students wherever they are and to help each one identify and develop their personal strengths. I also strive to create a classroom culture in which students see themselves as members of a larger community.
Agency, Empathy, & Creativity
I always aim for socially responsible teaching, and I work to build a learning culture that values respect, equity, and diversity of opinion and expression. I measure my success as an educator not only on how well my students learned the material, but also on their personal development as artists, critical thinkers, and human beings. The skills I most wish to cultivate in my students are agency, empathy, and creativity. Theatre is the perfect medium through which to build all three:
-- Through project-based learning, improvisation, and scene creation, students become agents of their own education. The activities, scenes, and projects that we develop in class are always empowering and student-centered, built around students’ own ideas, interests, and points of view.
-- Theatre, as an art form, is based on empathy. The act of playing a character demands that performers put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and the act of being an audience member involves watching a story through the perspective of the characters onstage. In my classroom, I aim to take this further – continually encouraging students to consider other points of view and to approach the world with compassion and understanding.
-- And finally, every activity we do in theatre involves some form of creative expression. Whether or not my students go on to professional careers in theatre, I hope that their time in my classroom will instill in them a greater belief in their own artistic impulses – and in the value of applying creative thought to any career and any situation. My goal is for my students to approach the rest of their lives with greater confidence, empathy, and trust in the power of their own imaginations.