There were many perks to my newfound theatre internship. Pay above minimum wage, access to free tickets to world-class theater, and participation in what were called “Lunch and Learns,” a program during which we lowly interns got to interact with some very accomplished theater administrators, programmers, and producers, over pizza pies (which we all tried to restrain ourselves from devouring voraciously à la Garfield the Cat).
The talks were fairly prescriptive: three minutes of basic introductions, twenty minutes of learning about said luminaries’ path/journey, fifteen minutes of Q&A, (and about seven minutes solely focused on ingesting pizza). Then, it came time to Lunch and Learn with someone I really did, and still do, admire greatly. After about ten minutes of discussing his career path, he turned the table on us: “What are your goals? What do you want to do?”
Upon hearing some very succinct elevator speeches from my fellow interns, it was my turn. “I want to work in kids and community programming, and I also want to teach and work directly with students.”
He looked at me sternly, “Choose one. And the sooner you choose it, the easier your path in New York will be. New York doesn’t like multiple personalities.” I really respect this gentleman, but apparently he hasn’t spoken with many New York waiters.
Being naive and new to the field, I took this as the be all and end all of theater wisdom. I left my afterschool program teaching job, and obtained a full-time job where I had been interning.
It wasn’t long before I realized that something was missing. I returned to teaching on a volunteer basis, and looked at it as a hobby or some sort of community service, rather than a career choice. Teaching on a volunteer basis a few times a month turned into a weekly commitment. Then it turned into obtaining another position through a recommendation, which ultimately turned into enrolling in a graduate school program for Educational Theatre. Now that I have some experience and perspective, I know that being a teacher has only positively influenced my work in programming, and that I’m not the only one who sees the beauty of a multitudinous identity.
Many of us working in the field of arts education are used to—and embrace—the dual role. The phrase “teaching artist” itself represents a duality, a role that teaching artist and playwright/actor Nilaja Sun pokes fun at in her play No Child. The janitor, who serves in the play as the Greek chorus, says that Nilaja is a teacher, “or as she likes to call herself a teaching artist, just so people know she likes to do something in her free time.” Teaching artists developing their own artistry propels compelling moments of exploration with students. Some of the best TYA programmers I’ve encountered have spent a significant time in the classroom themselves, getting to know the students who will hopefully come see a show that was programmed with them in mind. At the New Victory Theater, New York City’s only theatre dedicated to producing work for youth, arts administrators in the Education Department spend significant time teaching alongside the teaching artists that they manage and schedule.
In my own life, teaching has kept me more directly connected to the population I most want to program for, has encouraged constant reflection and refining, and has allowed me to view a night (or morning) at the theatre as an opportunity to learn about oneself, no matter what your age. I have been supported and encouraged by my supervisors and co-workers to continue teaching. I am grateful that I work in a field in which I can continue to explore and grow, and where my identities as both teacher and programmer feed and fuel each other. They are inextricably intertwined. Alas, despite the sage’s admonition, having two personalities can be better than one.