Teaching Philosophy

Six summers I’ve worked as a hiking guide in the mountains of Wyoming. Teaching, to me, is the same work, the same joy. The best teachers leave you panting to rush off on your own and continue exploring. When I teach Introduction to the Arts, Theatre History, or Play Analysis, I position each artist as a star attraction, a center of that course’s geography. Part of my effort in lectures and in assigning readings is to show the paths that lead to that artist. An equally important part is showing the paths that artist leads to.

Most of my undergraduate students will not, themselves, go on to careers in theatre. Even those who do work in theatre professionally may not make a habit of study. So how can I be most useful to them? That’s a question drilled into me by years at the feet of Gregory Mosher, whose Department of Theater at Hunter College has usefulness as a core principle.

I start from a place of humility: I don’t know where students are going once they leave my classroom, and I don’t know what will excite their attention at any time. So what do I wish I had known? What were my impressions when I walked into this landscape for the first time? Which landmarks leapt out to me? Where did I think the borders were? Which turnings unlocked my understanding of the terrain? Most importantly: what parts of it seem most relevant right now, at this very moment in the world?

The hike is a collaboration between guide and visitor. Teaching is a collaboration between teacher and student. Within two weeks, I begin to have a sense of what lights up my students’ eyes. I find out where they can’t wait to go next. Every semester I’ve adjusted syllabi on the fly to suit the needs and interests of the people in front of me. While it takes care to ensure that these adaptations do not burden the students, I find it natural to meet the students where they are.

Inclusion is core to my mission as a teacher. I lead hikes in national forest and wilderness areas: public lands that belong to everyone. Theatre is the world — “a little world within these walls” as Bergman put it — and the world needs inclusion now and always. For the good of the theatre and society, the stage must be an open, public place, with access for all voices. That’s what I work towards.

There is not one way. I see myself ultimately as an opener of paths, not a dictator of directions. I want to help all those interested in theatre to connect to the power of the stage and the responsibilities it demands. Anyone who asks to speak to an audience had better have moral courage. Anyone who wishes an audience to feel that terrifying, joyous rush of the heart expanding to encompass more life must be brave enough to risk their own heart first. Here, my job is to stoke the fire students already have in them, feeding it oxygen and fuel so that it burns long and bright.