Incite/Insight Winter 2018 Incite Insight Winter 2018 - Page 24

23 I n c i t e /I ns i ght W i n te r 201 8 Giving Back and Paying It Forward W R I T T EN BY JOAN LAZARUS Like many of us, I was drawn to theatre and education by a love of the art form and a desire to change the world. While teaching and working as a director, actor, and teaching artist for pre-K through high school youth in community based and school theatre programs, I became active in professional state and regional theatre education organizations. It was there— due to the generosity of more experienced artists and educators who answered my questions, included me on planning committees, and challenged me with bold, new practices—that I came to feel like I belonged in this work, it was my home. Their mentorship and encouragement made me hungry to know and do more and planted the awareness I had something to give and give back. I decided to return to grad school to focus on theatre and drama with youth as an artist and ultimately as a professor in higher education. The catalyst for this move was a conversation I had at a professional state theatre conference. Gerry Siks, a well– known author on drama, was presenting and I attended her session. She approached me, found out my interests and, after watching me participate in another artist’s session, urged me to pursue a career teaching drama and theatre education at the college level. I was overwhelmed by whatever it was that made her reach out to a stranger with such encouragement. She suggested a grad school to attend. The head of that program was at this conference and he thought the best fit for me was at Arizona State University (ASU) where they then were building into a comprehensive graduate program. These two very senior leaders in our field not only encouraged me, but they offered practical suggestions and introductions that showed investment in me individually and the spirit of giving back to their field by guiding others in it. It was in grad school that I first realized that selfishly gathering best practices, research and insights from my peers and leaders in the field was not what it meant to be a professional in our field. What my mentors and their colleagues were teaching me was the art of giving back and subsequently paying it forward to the end that the field would grow, survive and, hopefully, thrive for generations. This was the spirit that led them to lead me to American Alliance for Theater & Education (AATE) and a decades-long involvement in the organization and the field. I was fortunate to attend grad school with Dr. Lin Wright who then was heading the Child Drama program at ASU and serving as president of the Children’s Theatre Association of America (CTAA,) a national organization that would soon become AATE. The importance of rigor and excellence in the work of CTAA was always at the forefront of Lin’s thought, for she fervently believed that, through commitment to excellence, our field would grow in respect and recognition thus enabling us to better serve young people, their families, schools and communities. Through Lin’s example, and that of her colleagues around the country*, I am and my fellow grad students quickly learned that everyone in this field needs to serve, be an advocate for the importance of this work, give back and pay forward. AATE and state and regional professional organizations are driven primarily by volunteers. Our field’s success grows in proportion to how much we each give back to these organizations. Our work must 24 In c it e / In sig h t expand beyond ourselves and our time. Lin instilled in us the need to serve our field by being of service to others – by working with theatres and teachers in the community, by volunteering on committees and projects, attending and presenting theatre and drama sessions at local, state and national conferences and by honoring the contributions of those who were groundbreakers in the work we wanted to pursue. She found ways for us to attend and present at national conferences, do research for the field and work with those on the front lines. By the time I graduated, through the example of those before me, I was organizing a pre-conference on the (new at the time) field of Theatre-in-Education (TIE), heading up a small initiative to bring in more advertisers to our publications, presenting at the national conference, and most important to me – learning from some of the best thinkers in our field. Whatever I gave, I got back ten-fold in wisdom, knowledge and collegiality. Following in their footsteps, I was able to be active in the transition from CTAA to AATY to AATE and had the privilege of working on the first AATE conference and serving on the first Board. I was elected president soon after and served six years on the Board. Inspired by the work of leaders in youth theatre, professional TYA, applied theatre and drama, playwriting and devising, I blended my university work with the mission of AATE and vice versa. Starting W int e r 2 018 the National Conference of Youth Theatre Directors, a pre- conference for professional TYA Directors, Think Tanks on Teaching Theatre and the Education of Theatre Teachers, Leadership Forums, Research Forums, Advisory Councils all allowed me to engage my students in this field and their professional organization. AATE provided me with some of my closest colleagues and best friends. The organization drew on every skill I had and challenged me to do more, know more and be more for our children, my students and the professional artists and educators who would serve them. I came to feel that my real work was to shed enough light on the best work in the field so that those coming behind me might build on the modest work I had done, to be able to reach farther and accomplish more than I could. That’s what AATE can do. It allows us the privilege of service that gifts us with so many benefits while allowing us the privilege of gifting the next leaders like my leaders encouraged me. JOAN LAZARUS is a teacher, artist, researcher and writer. Her practice is collaborative, democratic and based in dialogue about issues of personal and social import. Her book, Signs of Change: New Directions in Theatre Education, focuses on theatre education practices that are learner- centered, holistic and socially responsible. She is Professor Emerita at The University of Texas at Austin. *Among those active in our field whose example early inspired me were Gerry Siks, Agnes Haaga, Nellie McCaslin, Dorothy Heathcote, Bill Rough, Orlin Corey, Ruth Beall Heinig, Moses Goldberg, Jed Davis, Coleman Jennings, Tom Behm, Ann Shaw, Ginny Koste, Judy Kase Cooper, Don Doyle, and many, many other artists, scholars and practitioners.