As a theatre educator, I primarily work with college and university students (including theatre majors, minors, and nonmajors) in performance-related coursework. Keep scrolling for my teaching philosophy as well as a few testimonials from students.
A secondary area of educational expertise is working with K-12 students.
Above: With co-instructor Mark Parrott and UNI students from Foundations of Theatre, Spring 2017.
Below: Voice & Diction students at Coe College warming up at the beginning of class, Fall 2019.
Above: Leading a talkback for middle school students after a performance of Out of Bounds (youth version) with Working Group Theatre – Iowa Tour, 2015.
Below: With elementary and middle school students in Buffalo, NY after leading a forum theatre workshop in conjunction with Out of Bounds (full-length version) with Working Group Theatre – National Tour, 2016.
Above: Iowa Conservatory acting students playing theatre games at Nolte Academy, Fall 2020.
I center my teaching around student growth. In both the classroom and the rehearsal space, I support students in understanding their creative process, incorporating constructive feedback, and working collaboratively with others to create exciting, repeatable performances. I do this by sharing various tools and empowering students to use them in healthy, sustainable ways.
I build (and continuously rebuild) my pedagogy upon anti-racist, consent-based, and trauma-informed practices. Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (as defined by David H. Rose, Ed.D. in 1990), I regularly assess my methods for accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I continually solicit feedback and incorporate it into my course planning, drawing from recent developments in the field to revamp old projects and design new ones.
Innovation involves risk, and I hold myself accountable when I make mistakes. I dedicate time to reflect, repair, and transform so I can create safer spaces and better practices, prioritizing compassion for my students, colleagues, and myself. I expect progress, not perfection.
Like acting, teaching requires me to be mindful of how I impact my audience. I use words carefully to model the curiosity and openness I want to impart to my students. I make space for students to contribute their ideas, and I reply with “yes, and…!” as often as possible, juxtaposing this “enthusiastic yes” with the “pressured yes.” I build a community of fully-informed and empowered collaborators who learn how to stretch themselves, strengthening both the creative impulse and the collaborative spirit.
I teach my students that theatre-making requires productive discomfort but not an absence of boundaries. I introduce them to the “window of tolerance,” coined by Dr. Dan Siegal, M.D., in his 1999 book, The Developing Mind. We explore how actors can stay in the window that allows them to be present and in control, even while the characters they are playing are likely operating outside the window. My students learn to identify their actor limits, communicate these with each other, and play within them, expanding the window when they feel able and willing. In doing this, the students learn to be their own best advocates.
In addition to boundary work, the language of critique is a vital aspect of my teaching. I challenge the usefulness of terms like “good and bad” or “right and wrong” when it comes to art, preferring statements like this one from my former teacher Theodore Swetz: “It doesn’t have to be right; it just has to be fascinating!” I ask my students not what they “thought” but what they “noticed,” and we comment on the work with kindness and specificity, articulating observations and communicating individual impact without judgment. Using “this-is-what-I-saw” framing acknowledges each person’s experience while honing their ability to analyze how an artist’s choices affect their audience.
I am no ideologue. I do not teach one kind of student or one genre of acting. Instead, I combine various acting techniques from my training and approach them from fresh angles, demonstrating the fluidity of the artistic process. I assign comparison essays in which the students find common ground between two contradictory actor training systems, such as Strasberg and Meisner. I then infuse one of those methodologies with yet another. For instance, I pair Meisner’s repetition with Chekhov’s archetypal actions to root the exercise in the actors’ bodies. My classroom functions as a laboratory where students can experiment with different tools, discover what works for them, and develop an appreciation for the merits of other approaches.
The topics we cover are global in scope. When the students and I address the psychophysical acting approach of Michael Chekhov, we explore how his technique draws heavily from the Eastern philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism. I also show videos of performers from Noh and Kathakali theatre traditions, connecting their skills in concentration, specificity, and subtlety to modern disciplines, such as acting for the camera. I address how westerners often claim that “theatre originated in Athens” and refer to Stanislavsky as “The Father of Modern Acting,” and I assert that today’s actor needs to understand live performance as a diverse art form with roots all over the world.
I prioritize proactive communication and transparency at every level. I present beginner students with a pre-determined set of expectations and grading criteria to ease the transition from high school and support their adjustment to college life. As they progress through the program, they build autonomy. Using contract grading and community agreements in advanced classes, I gather student input on workload, classroom expectations, and evaluation standards. The students evaluate their work according to the contract we create, defending their conclusions in a one-on-one conversation with me at the end of the term.
My teaching is rigorous and adaptable. I set a high bar, clearly define my expectations and my process, and provide enough guidance and support for each student to reach their goals. Students leave my classroom with a complete toolbox and the critical thinking skills to use their tools creatively and responsibly in our ever-changing world, whether they continue as professionals in the theatre industry or pursue another path.
Above: The cast of Anti-Racist Baby poses with the posters they made for their performance at Kimmel Auditorium (2021).