I just finished teaching in a kickass project in Clackamas County. The link is to an Oregonian article, talking in broad terms about it. Below are the answers I sent to some questions the Oregonian reporter asked me via email, recorded here for old times' sake.
I’m a professional theatre artist and educator in our fair city. I am being paid for my time. I also work for PlayWrite, Inc., working with at-risk youth to write and develop plays, and then stage them with professional actors. And I work for Janus Youth Programs’ Buckman House, a residential transitional facility for juvenile sex offenders.
I believe very strongly in the totality of community. That is, in order to be a fully-functioning human being in community with others, I believe that we must accept and acknowledge the dysfunctional, the underprivileged—the adjudicated—just as much as the functional, the privileged, the innocent. Roman playwright Terence, himself an emancipated slave, wrote, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” And I believe he meant that we all have the capacity, and, in some ways, the responsibility, to look to the horrifying as much as the beautiful, the tragic and terrible and sublime all together. We are derelict in our responsibilities as citizens if we simply ignore what we do not understand. I believe much suffering we experience as a community arises from the collective amnesia and myopathy that we impose on ourselves.
I’ve led performance workshops for advanced drama students, for at-risk/homeless students, for students with behavioral issues, for students with substance abuse issues. I believe that performance is more than flashiness, or sexiness, or even talent. Live performance is a means for an individual to speak clearly and specifically for their own perspective, to an audience assembled for that purpose. Shelley believed that poets are “the unsung legislators of mankind,” by which I think he meant that real art is not merely an exercise in vanity, but an honest and meaningful attempt to make sense of the world, to govern ourselves in the best way, to harness creativity and passion for the greater inspiration of us all.
I’m working with these students to discover and refine that which is redemptive and honest in their own experiences, and give the beginnings of form to that. The stakes are real; audiences are wonderfully equipped to see through bullsh*t. My goal with these students is simply to open the door of possibilities that giving voice and audience to their creativity can mean for each of them, individually.
I do this work because, at my core, I identify with the prejudices and obstacles they live with. I was an angry, dysfunctional young student with a troubled home life, I’ve never been comfortable with authority structures, I deal with assumptions about my behavior or attitude that bear no basis in reality to this day.
As an artist, I’m exhausted by work that merely perpetuates a privileged, myopic, superficial perspective of the world. I’m sick and tired of endless productions of the same misogynistic, milk-toasty plays or movies or music. Now, ironically, Shakespeare—who epitomizes “safe” establishment work—saved my live when I was 14. Theatre performance was the cathartic channel that allowed me to develop healing perspective over my own emotional traumas.
As an educator I’m specifically drawn to the underprivileged, because as an artist I know that the real work to come, is not going to come from people emulating Shakespeare or even any other mainstream figures now current; the work that will save lives, the way Shakespeare saved mine, will come from those who break rules and struggle at every level, and mightily, the way Shakespeare himself once did.