I began teaching because I love to learn. I love to learn alongside other people who are also learning, and I want students to enjoy learning as much as I do. Because I had teachers who actively engaged with and questioned material even as they were teaching it to me, I try to do that as well, modeling for my students a critical way of engaging that does not merely consume information but also builds a connection to it and connects it to other things.
I also teach because I believe education plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy polis. If I’m doing it right, my students go forth into life knowing how to think critically about everything they encounter. When people have a good education, they become tolerant and open-minded citizens, having been exposed to differing points of view in a diverse environment. Theatre students in particular graduate with the ability to imagine walking in another person’s shoes, generating empathy and understanding across difference.
I believe that teaching and learning can be joyful and surprising, and that when it is, it is more effective. In fact, activating a students’ amygdala through surprise increases their capacity to synthesize new information. I demonstrate joy and surprise in learning by continually exposing myself to new information and encountering old information as if for the first time. Every year in Theatre History, I share my excitement with students over something that, despite having taught the material for 18 years, I have just discovered for the first time.
Learning happens best through dialogue, and different points of view add to the value of the conversation. I often encourage an inclusive form of engagement by demonstrating openness to different points of view myself, even allowing students to change my mind with strong arguments. In sharing the points of view of other scholars, I will often deliberately present opposing answers to the same question. Students who have traditionally been marginalized often initially take me up on the option of participating in dialogue over email rather than in class. I offer this option because I have found that after a few back-and-forth exchanges in writing, the student often feels more comfortable bringing their ideas up in the classroom, having been assured that their opinions will not be discounted or ignored.
In specific, directors in our program learn to write, analyze scripts, do research, arrive at a premise for a production, collaborate with designers, name playable actions, create stage compositions, and utilize both time and space to tell story and create character. If they choose to, they may also learn to teach.
I like to say that building a production is like building a house, and it is my job to teach directors how to use the tools necessary to do that. I teach students how to use hammers and nails, screws and screwdrivers, in service of building whatever kind of house they want. Therefore, a student need not share my aesthetic to learn directing from me; they can, rather, learn how to use a huge variety of techniques and methodologies in service of whatever kind of theatre they choose to make. Assessment, then, is a question of how successfully they integrate these tools into a directing practice of their own. When they graduate, our directors have the skills to direct professionally, their own particular aesthetic, and an ability to engage critically, ethically, and empathetically with the diverse world around them.