Meridian Rehearsal 2.jpg
viewpoints.jpg
Meridian Rehearsal 2.jpg

Teaching


"Give it voice until your body takes hold of it and remembers."

CHERRÍE MORAGA

SCROLL DOWN

Teaching


"Give it voice until your body takes hold of it and remembers."

CHERRÍE MORAGA

“Story comes first,” Richard Weingartner, my high school theater director would say, as we swung into a wide circle on the stage. What he meant was: we’re here to leave our shit at the door—our egos, our angst—and tell a story together, as resoundingly as possible. For a bunch of adolescents scrambling up a rickety social ladder, that was a radical notion. If we walked into that Little Theater seeking praise, we quickly learned, this wasn’t about us—this was about reaching for something beyond ourselves. And in that reaching, we discovered ourselves.

Theater was not an extracurricular activity—it was bootcamp of the mind, body, and soul. We were there to work hard, and work hard we did, five hours a day, six days a week. Minutes after the school bell rang, we were on that stage, silently doing a hundred push-ups because we understood: the stronger we were, the more dexterous we could be. We trained as a company, devising original pieces, writing docu-dramas, cutting our teeth on Shakespeare and Commedia. The bar was raised, and we rose to meet it.

It is this ethos of rigor and shared responsibility that shaped me, as an artist and as a whole human being, and practicing that kind of pedagogy continues to be core to my work. Wherever I have taught, at both the college and school level, I hold my students to a high standard of creative and critical rigor, and, in my experience, they rise to the challenge. Rigor means not only a mastery of craft, but also a deep attention to the world we live in: its histories; its networks of power; how those dynamics shape themselves in our own bodies. Whether it be a playwriting or poetry workshop, a class in devising performance, a queer literature course, or a seminar in alternative historiographies, seeing students as burgeoning artists and thinkers is at the heart of my teaching philosophy.

 

 

I remember my first rehearsal at Meridian Academy, where I taught for three years and built a theater program from a scratch. Thirteen kids in the basement Bar Mitzvah hall of the old synagogue that housed our school. We sit in a circle on the cold linoleum dance floor -- a bunch of twelve to fourteen year-olds who wouldn’t be caught dead with one another during lunch. I’ve asked them to share a song. It’s Ronan’s turn. “I can’t,” he says, guitar in lap, all the color drained from his face. He’s never sung for anyone. The kids offer words of encouragement, but he just shakes his head. We sit in silence. I tell them the silence is ok. Ronan is hunched over his guitar, hyperventilating. Slowly, he wills his fingers to play. He plays the opening refrain over and over, lips drawn tight, until finally, quietly, he begins to sing. No one breathes. His voice is breathy, but it fills the big empty room. No one moves. Laila, the class clown, surreptitiously wipes a tear from her eye.

Ronan went on to play Orpheus—the prophet who could move even stones with his song. That motley crew of teens and pre-teens used their bodies in space to conjure all the laughter and tragedy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, shifting shape, catching one another in free fall. They remind me how radical it is to unearth something you never knew you had in you.

The theater I have made with young actors is some of the richest work, in terms of both content and craft, that I've had pleasure of making. In an age in which the blocking for Broadway musicals is being copyrighted and shipped to high schools across the country, I am of the belief that holding young people to a high standard of critical and creative excellence is not only possible, but absolutely necessary. My students have been some of my greatest teachers.

 

Teaching teaches me how to learn. We will not be defined by our self-defined limits. We will be asking more of ourselves and seeing that it is possible to do the impossible. My mentor, Maestra Cherríe Moraga, would always say, "We're just getting dumber and dumber." Meaning we're forgetting what we already knew—what our bodies already knew. In a class full of students who thought because they were going to Stanford, they must be making Progress, Cherríe would say, "Your grandmother was smarter than you are. Because she knew how to do things." 

We live in a world where reverence is becoming a dirty word, where students are taught, you are the boss of your own self, rather than a part of community of life, living and dead. That terrifies me. So I return to performance as a teaching tool—performance defined as inhabiting the body, as rigor, as ritual, as collaboration in service of story—because every modern person needs that kind of human being practice.

viewpoints.jpg

Viewpoints


Viewpoints