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BWW Blog: Falling in Love with Teaching Theatre -- Over Zoom

How I discovered my passion for theatre education in the year of virtual teaching

BWW Blog: Falling in Love with Teaching Theatre -- Over Zoom
It was teaching drama camps over
Zoom with Taproot Theatre last summer
that confirmed my deep love
for teaching theatre myself.

Like many aspiring theatre professionals, my life has been profoundly shaped by teaching artists. Over the years, my recognition and appreciation of educational theatre's impact on me (not just as a performer but as a person) has only grown. I began to teach theatre myself in my teens, and had long expected it to help fill out the career I aspired to in acting and choreography. But it was 2020 -- the year of zoom teaching - that showed me that such work would be a part of my career not just to make ends meet, but to fulfill a deep love for the practice of theatre teaching itself.

I can trace the formative significance of educational theatre on my life back to middle school, when my family moved from Atlanta to Seattle. An 11-year-old suddenly across the country from everything comfortable and familiar, the first sense of home and community I found in Washington was at a local youth theatre, Studio East. Sure, the Studio's classes and productions gave me chances to learn about and practice what I loved - but that wasn't what mattered most, by far (especially to a middle schooler who had barely thought of a professional theatre career). The important thing was that in this educational theatre space, I could be fully and unapologetically my truest self and be loved and accepted for it. The teaching artists at the Studio taught and developed a community of young people that overflowed with empathy, openness, and courage, along with professionalism and work ethic. As I grew up and began to foray into more professional theatre spaces, the Studio's educational space continued to be one where I felt an unmatched safety to push myself and risk failing in pursuit of growth and discovery. To this day, there are few places I feel more at home.

BWW Blog: Falling in Love with Teaching Theatre -- Over Zoom
Experiences in educational theatre -
like Godspell, my first show at Studio East -
shaped me as a performer and a person.

With my deep appreciation for the impact of theatre education, it was only natural for me try out the work myself. As I sought my first job and volunteer opportunities, those helping to teach theatre or dance always felt like the best fit with their connection to the performing arts world I loved. Assisting and interning in education allowed me to work side-by-side with professionals, including at a major regional theatre. It was special to help make experiences that had been so important for me, possible for others. Plus, most theatre professionals I knew taught at least from time to time to make ends meet, so I figured teaching would be a necesarry, and certainly fun, part of my theatre career. But especially having spent the summer after my freshman year of college working in theater education, I was ready to spend my post-sophomore-year summer focused on performance. Then of course, mid-summer-theatre-audition-season, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. As opportunity after opportunity fell through, I scrambled desperately for some theatre-related project for the summer, and eventually found myself with a musical theatre teaching internship at a Seattle storefront theatre. I was thrilled to have the opportunity at all, especially at a theatre where I'd always wanted to work, but a part of me was unsure: after the multiple months of almost-daily zoom theatre camps that lay before me (far more teaching than I'd ever done at once) would I be completely sick of children? As the summer progressed, I found that the opposite was true: I was incredibly excited to get on zoom every day. Whether I was dancing around with three-year-olds or coaching high school students on monologues, I found a joy far beyond anything I'd expected, especially mid-pandemic. Watching students make discoveries, grow and improve, find joy and be excited to get on zoom every day themselves was incredibly rewarding and sustained me the entire summer.

By the internship's end, I'd discovered that teaching theatre would not just be a meaningful survival job but a real passion. And serendipitously, it was in the midst of this discovery that I received the opportunity to teach over zoom for the new Virtual Theatre Company. I dove into one of my first experiences as not just an assistant but a lead, solo teacher; this time teaching specifically contemporary and musical theatre dance. With my love for teaching in hand, my confidence and repertoire of teaching skills only grew, and it was absolutely incredible to hear from my students at the end of our session about how they'd grown, and how my goals for their learning had totally been realized.

Virtual theatre-making, and especially virtual theatre-teaching, are far from ideal. If you'd told me a year ago -- when I had no intentions of teaching over the summer at all -- that this would be the summer I would fall in love with teaching without meeting a single student in person, I never would have believed you. And yet in the midst of its overwhelming challenges, 2020 gave me something special: a chance to share with young people the gifts theatre had given me, in the midst of a chaotically swirling world. As I begin the new year, I can't wait to continue the work of theatre education, no matter what unexpected twists lie along the way.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Emily Brooks