Tag Archives: Texas

Who Can Tell What Story?: Ethical Concerns in Theatre Education

Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Theatre and Dance Dr. Sara Simons led the Faculty Fellows seminar held October 4th, beginning with a simple question: who can tell what story? As an educator of future theatre teachers, Dr. Simons noted that her interest in investigating the classroom came from both theoretical and practical concerns. For Simons’ students, the ethics of who can best present a story and whether stories can be told across identity markers quickly become issues of importance in high school theater classrooms. Simons’ students value exposing their own future students to plays and stories from a diverse range of writers and voices, yet many also question how to teach such perspectives. But such conversations are not limited to theatre education, as many Fellows noted.

Simons led the seminar through a series of kinesthetic exercises, many of which she teaches in her own classroom. She began with exercises adapted from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed canon, asking Fellows to follow a series of commands (walk, stop, jump, say your name), then to reverse those commands–to walk when Simons told the group to stop, to jump when Simons asked the group to state their names, and so on. The Fellows debriefed after the activity, noting the activity established new meanings and rules, forcing each of the participants to think before they acted. Simons framed this activity as a way for her to teach students the process of unlearning their assumptions, beliefs, and automatic responses–something, she noted, that is not only continual, but often bumpy.

Simons asked the group frequently to describe what they achieved in the activity, providing the participants an opportunity to reflect on their teaching as well as on their assumptions around teaching texts from authors of different backgrounds from their students (or their own), among other things. Simons noted that theatre education frequently positions theatre as both “a mirror and a window,” representing both the audience’s experiences and experiences that may never have had. But that view of theatre can be complicated by issues of who is permitted to tell stories of marginalized people, and who is represented in theatre as a whole.

Simons instructed Fellows to assemble into small groups to discuss various hypothetical scenarios around storytelling, authenticity, and representation. Fellows debriefed on the assignment as a group, discussing the ethics of writing or teaching stories from different societal positions and perspectives. Many Fellows noted that academic work in a variety of fields involves working in communities outside of their own, requiring researchers to consider how they are accountable to the communities they write about and what materials they need to elucidate or contextualize. Participants also discussed considerations of audience. In theatre, Simons noted, directors and producers frequently need to consider who the show is for, and whether they intend to expand the audience’s horizons or depict the audience’s own lives–the mirror, or the window. Fellows concluded that academics, writers, and others in creative professions often have to make risky moves to promote empathy in their audience, or in their students. Thus, an understanding of the power dynamics at work–in a piece, a production, or in culture broadly–are essential to teaching theatre, and to teaching and writing as a whole.

The seminar closed with each participant stating their final, one word summation of the discussion, providing each Fellow an opportunity to reflect on what they took from the session. Answers ranged widely, but many stated words like authenticity, empathy, context, and other broad topics, making connections to the concerns of past seminars.

Why Public Investment in Higher Education Is Good for the Economy

By Lauren Schudde

Social mobility—where an individual rises above his or her social and economic origins—is a key feature of the American Dream. Today, education, particularly a college education, is the means through which a person “works hard” to “get ahead.” The individual stands to benefit from both the skills and the credential gained through higher education, reaping higher earnings and prestige through new opportunities.

But does higher education only offer private returns? Or does society—the public—stand to gain something from an individual attaining more education? This question is at the heart of the constant battle over state budgets across the country. Educational allocations have been among the first on the chopping block in the name of fiscal conservatism. The narrative that pursuing a college degree is the best way to advance one’s career bolsters support for the usefulness of higher education, but also undermines the understanding that public higher education serves the greater good.

Continue reading Why Public Investment in Higher Education Is Good for the Economy

Documenting the Power Struggle on College Campuses

Director Steve Mims discusses the making of Starving the Beast
By Steve Mims

Easily the best part of working on any film is that is thrusts you out into a world populated with potentially fascinating people. Documentary and fiction projects put you into proximity with people you otherwise would have never met, and sometimes in the company of experts in their respective fields. When Joe Bailey, Jr. and I made Incendiary: The Willingham Case, we got to spend an afternoon with fire scientist Gerald Hurst, a brilliant, personable, and opinionated expert in arson evidence and every imaginable explosive device.  We realized at the time that we were in the presence of a kind of genius. In our film he emerged not only as an impeccable expert, but a voice of wisdom that added a surprising, profound dimension to the film.

On the documentary film Starving the Beast (The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Public Universities), producer Bill Banowsky and I got to hang out with and pick the brains of brilliant people well above our intellectual pay-grade: nationally recognized political strategists and academic experts who left us in a real sense of awe.  Among those were the University of Virginia’s brilliant media expert Siva Vaidhyanathan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s poverty center director and activist Gene Nichol, and political strategist and wit James Carville. We would have never met them without the effort to make the film. Their contributions to the film are absolutely vital, but our opportunity to spend to time with them and get to know them was an equally profound personal reward. Continue reading Documenting the Power Struggle on College Campuses

It’s Never Too Late

By Anhelo Escalante
Southwest of Salem (2015) directed by Deborah Esquenazi
Southwest of Salem (2015) directed by Deborah Esquenazi

I am embarrassed to admit that, before the film Southwest of Salem was released, I had never heard of the San Antonio Four. It’s never too late to catch up, I thought after I saw it was playing at my local cinema. So I texted my friend Andy and immediately set up our next movie date. After all, as a queer Latinx of adult age, keeping myself informed about the experiences of other members of my own community simply seemed like the responsible thing to do. Moreover, to show support for the women in the story and the women behind the film, it’s exactly what sorority calls for. Continue reading It’s Never Too Late