For the past few days I’ve been at the ATHE Conference. ATHE stands for Association of Theatre in Higher Education, and it is a giant gathering of theatre educators and practitioners. This year, we’re in D.C., and the theme of the year has been thusly shaped- lots of panels and papers about civic engagement.
I’ll admit. I kicked off the conference with a bad attitude. I didn’t bring my daughter with me (she’s home with my partner), and that sets a VERY high standard for my time: is this worth being away from my child for 6 (!) days? The answer is almost always no, and yet, I am, so I get teary eyed every time I see a child (creepy) and I walk around feeling resentful of something I CHOSE to do. And yet, my crabbiness hasn’t been entirely unwarranted: some of the panels on “applied theatre” (that’s theatre that you “apply” to some social use besides aesthetics) have really alarmed me! Yes, collaborations between universities/colleges and not-for-profits can be really productive, especially when the university has resources to support a project. But, No! Waltzing into “the deep dark city” to create a patronizing “Boal piece” with “underprivileged kids” is not cool, even if it feels like you’re “saving them” from “their dangerous neighborhoods.” I want to hear conversations about sustainability of partnerships, about the very real challenges that differential privilege imposes on collaborations, on the processes of self-education and awareness that new teaching artists must engage in to avoid a missionary attitude towards their work. See how crabby I’ve been? One session made me so mad I walked out midway and went to get a manicure. It honestly seemed a better use of my time!
But there have been bright spots! I’m lucky to be involved with the Latino Focus Group at the conference, and they are (collectively) such a delight. Supportive of each other, invested in mentorship, strategic about building collaborations, and generally warm and funny. I feel kind of cozy and relaxed whenever I go to an LFG session. It’s reassuring to know these people are out there, all year, working in the academy, somewhere. And then… there’s the Hippetyhop!
I helped to organize a session on Hip-Hop Theatre Pedagogy, which was scheduled up against THE ONLY OTHER session on Hip-Hop: a staged reading of SMASH/HIT (a piece still in development). I thought this didn’t bode well for our workshop. After all, how many people “in the academy” really care about Hip-Hop? And given the choice, wouldn’t people who love Hip-Hop choose to go see a piece of performance, rather than sit in on a discussion? But our discussion was really well attended, and full of enthusiastic people. About five minutes into the session, I felt my heart lift in a kind of geeked out giddiness. A room full of people strategizing ways to create space within the institution to let our students be the experts, to let them guide the process of knowledge, to create environments where they are empowered to drive their learning. About how to sneak “Hip-Hop” into the broader curriculum. I put Hip-Hop in quotes because what defines “Hip-Hop theatre” is always contested, but much of what we are FOR SURE talking about is the inclusion of contemporary texts by playwrights/collectives who write about multicultural and often urban experience, who use a variety of forms and represent rhythms and ways of speaking that are often excluded in canonical texts. Whoa. I just got real academic there, but, you know, I do talk that way sometimes…! Usually, even…
I have two more days here and am missing my daughter desperately. But I’m also excited about coming home, and thinking about for real strategies of collaboration in the classroom, and between my institution and “the community.” Oh, hippetyhop! I love you!