Philosophy and Aesthetic
Building Artists From the Ground Up
I consider each student encounter a creative collaboration in which, as professor, I am also a mentor, a director, and, most significantly, a witness. Filling these roles on a daily basis gives me profound joy. As a teacher, I hope to create an amicable and unjudging atmosphere. Whether I am working with undergrads on fundamental technique or graduates on advanced theory; I believe in being demonstrative with praise, but also being pragmatic and prudent in pushing students toward meeting attainable goals.
With an eye towards blending theory into practice, I strive to be a model of the scholar/artist who engages in applied artistic research by building upon traditional performance history and techniques. As often as possible I seek to involve students with my creative research as collaborators. Throughout our shared experience doing research there is a detailed process, documentation, and allowance for clear moments of reflection, adjustment, and growth. My past research involving students has included deep plunging into archives to create original plays, developing performances based on personal narratives from marginalized communities, character development through historical and embodied research, community-based theatre projects involving international collaboration, and the reimagining of canonical dramatic work. The result being that students are involved in the creation of applied artistic research that is unique, compelling, audacious, and serves their growth as a theatre and film artist.
There is a definite design in the manner in which I layer my teaching, research, creative activities, and service. Each project I undertake is chosen with a specific inquiry, aesthetic, or pedagogical goal that I wish to explore with the students. I introduce more esoteric aspects of theatre and performance in ways that make them immediate and easily understandable to both majors and non-majors. I am willing to blend multiple approaches to any situation, attacking problems both logically and imaginatively. By maintaining a professional career as an actor, director, and playwright I am often able to provide opportunities for my students in professional productions and through internships. My teaching is strongly supported and enhanced by my professional work and growth as an artist.
My specialization as a teacher of acting is based in the technique of the master actor Michael Chekhov. I am drawn to Chekhov's work because he urges actors, when building a character, to create and embody a new person. I dare students to inhabit a new and exciting life and to use their art to explore their own definition of humanity and to discover fresh aspects of themselves. In familiar terminology, I compare acting to creating an avatar, reminding students that the word avatar comes from Hindu, signifying "the embodiment of a soul in any form." Chekhov takes the actor past the artifice of the stage to a truly ontological journey of spirit and being. In my classes I dare students to "be somebody other than themselves" and "to take on a new and exciting life". I push my students to use their art to explore their own definition of humanity. Whether I'm teaching acting, playwriting, theory, or history there are many points throughout the semester when I ask my students to put themselves, literally, "in another person's shoes". I will bring different pairs of shoes to class and ask them to put them on, walk around in them, let their bodies respond to change in their center of gravity, and feel how that "other person" navigates space. Once they are comfortable with walking as this new person, I will begin to introduce objects into the space with which they need to interact. Finally, I will urge them to find the "voice that wants to come out of that new body they now inhabit". Ultimately, my hope is that the lessons learned through the process of becoming a new character "from the ground up" may have some resonance in their personal life as well.
I am particularly drawn to drama that allows for the examination and definition of community and how that may be reflected in the work of an acting ensemble. My excitement for a theatre piece is directly linked to discovering its ability to resonate to the community in which it will be performed. Although each play I have directed has been very different in style and presentation, it is my hope that the sense of ensemble always shines through. My experience as an actor guides me in nurturing finely tuned and expressive performances from the students. My work as a playwright assures that I will respect the text and the playwright’s intent. My roots in political theatre serve me in discovering parallels between the characters portrayed, the actors portraying them, and the audience receiving them. This sense of ensemble doesn’t involve only the cast. I wholeheartedly embrace the collaborative process with designers and colleagues and feel gratefully rewarded when a production is able to showcase the brilliant talents of all involved.
I have found my role serving as a mentor in a student's career planning to be extremely satisfying. My work mentoring students has certainly proved to be effective by my former student’s successes as professional artists, leaders, and entrepreneurs in the theatre/film industry. I will always take a chance on helping a student in pursuing their dreams. I’m diligent in trying every angle to better understand a student’s goals and to help them create a plan to achieve them. I’m open minded and willing to break paradigms in aiding a student; but am also pragmatic and clear eyed about a student’s capabilities based on their time and resources.
Through a student’s synthesis of the many tools they have as actors I aim for them to reveal new modes and levels of critical thinking. An ultimate aim is that my students experience the power and transformational eloquence that can occur through performance and, most importantly, deepen their understanding of what it means to be compassionately human in the 21st century.