Participation in the performing arts can be viewed as the continuing examination of what it is to be human. At its best, the theatre arts create meaning and compel our urgent attention through the immediacy of performance, illuminating and influencing our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. In the words of Joseph R. Roach, theatre “concentrates the complex values of a culture with an intensity that less immediate transactions cannot rival,” and this places theatre, “at the center of civilized life, not its peripheries.” As such, theatre education opens students’ eyes to the “complex values” of our shared, human culture and hones their skills for concentrating society’s attention on those values.
As a theatre educator, I strive to prepare students for the literal and the figurative “stage”: for any venue in which, as professionals and citizens, they will present themselves and their work for consideration. In creating theatre, students are enjoined to look both out at the world and into their own hearts, and think critically; to make choices based on social, spiritual, and aesthetic values and then bring their conclusions to life through performances shared in community. To that end, students need multiple and diverse opportunities to acquire a set of skills that, while specific to theatre arts, also provide a framework for success on any of life’s public stages. These skills include:
- a broad knowledge of theatre history and its connections to major intellectual and artistic movements;
- the ability to discern and articulate the central ideas in works of dramatic literature and criticism;
- the capacity to formulate and express effective critiques of dramatic texts, individual performances, and whole productions;
- a facility for analyzing scripts with respect to the various aspects of production;
- a basic understanding of the practical mechanics of production, from constructing a show to running it;
- an experiential appreciation for the power and effectiveness of creative collaboration;
- an internalized code of professional, ethical behavior adaptable to any professional circumstance.
Inspiring and nurturing the qualities of the theatre artist (not simply the performer or craftsman), is the goal of my work in the classroom, the rehearsal hall, or the community-learning venue. Students in the performing arts internalize best by doing, whether as actors, carpenters, directors, designers, costumers, or as researchers, writers, critics and presentation-givers. Undergraduates are often initially drawn to the stage by the excitement, attention and “fun” that making theatre generates. A focus, therefore, on an active, creative process leading to a defined product acknowledges their likely points of initial connection, while drawing them into an ongoing journey of discovery. Engaging undergraduates in mastering critical and creative processes in this way nurtures potential and inspires in them a sense of what is possible, giving form and adding value to a “product” we may never see: the lives lived and contributions made by our students in the years after they leave the campus behind. By offering students many opportunities to unearth and commune with their own muses, my curricular goal is to make them aware of their own creative agency and, thus, their responsibility to create both process and product in every aspect of their lives.
As much as I enjoy working with undergraduates, I am also excited by the possibility of teaching graduate students. The question that first arose and was explored in my own experience of graduate school, “How do/will I develop myself as an artist and a professional?” continues to loom large on my career horizon. My work with emergent directors and scholars, therefore, would be geared toward encouraging their active, independent engagement with this question, guiding them in the formation of their professional skills and personas. Modeling peer relationships when working with students in production, and mentoring them as they direct or research and write their own works, is a vital part of their education as they learn to connect the mastery of process to a more definitive focus on outcomes. I hope to foster strong conceptual artists, insightful scholars, and dynamic leaders who can communicate their vision in many contexts and market their work in ways that facilitate their professional goals.
In addition to an emphasis on pedagogical theory and practice that would also be part of any curriculum, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, I believe it is vital that students be supported in exercising and strengthening their abilities to communicate ideas effectively in three spheres: writing (research and/or creative papers, essay questions on exams), spoken expression (verbal discussion and critique), and public performance (classroom presentations). Some of the classroom activities and assignments I employ to achieve these goals include:
- self-reflection exercises, critique exercises, and peer-review activities, designed to teach the graceful giving and receiving of critical feedback;
- writing assignments, based in Peter Elbow’s widely-used pedagogical techniques, designed to strengthen students’ ability to communicate ideas with clarity and power;
- an “open-note” classroom component for tests and exams which fosters active note-taking, improved study habits, and simulates the very processes of creating on which our discipline thrives;
- embedded components of academic research throughout course assignments, designed to stimulate a research perspective in arts education, as well as responsible academic writing, documentation and academic integrity;
- multiple public-performances-in-miniature, whether as individual and/or group presentations or as a final exam with an audience drawn from outside of the class.
The breadth of experiental and curricular knowledge, critical thinking, interpersonal and organizational skills, and maturing experiences available to students in the process of performance-making are ideal for growing both professional theatre artists and thoughtful, productive, and creative world citizens. It is my continuing career focus and goal to help my students step onto the various “stages” they will encounter in life with a clear appreciation of the theatre’s vital place “at the center of civilized
 Roach, Joseph R. The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,1993), 11.
 Ibid, 12.