Citizen Artist: Alice Gatling

 Supporting teachers through the arts

By Deneia Washington

From a professional viewpoint that spans from auditions and callbacks to single file lines and raised hands, Alice Gatling, a third year MFA Acting student, finds that her love for children and her desire to act makes her purpose as actor and educator even more impactful.

Her duties as an instructor who faces harsh realities in the school system, while simultaneously acting as an outsider by way of theater, gave Gatling the idea to establish an approach for teachers to utilize the arts and deconstruct the traditional atmosphere of the classroom, making it more conducive to learning.

Alice Gatling Headshot“I hear individuals who are quick to say something negative about teachers, but how are we feeding teachers? How are we giving them what they need? When I was an educator, do I feel like my needs were actually addressed?” says Gatling. It was in these moments of reflection that Gatling realized that much of the teachers’ voice and concern would be dismissed, and sometimes even ignored, throughout the conversation about the state of the U.S. education system.

On a quest to address this issue through the use of artistic expression, in 2009 Gatling, founded TEACH, The Educational Acting Company of Houston. TEACH serves as a developmental program for teachers by utilizing the arts in the classroom for a new and creative approach to teaching, as a response to a technologically advancing world.

Gatling finds that it takes more than the traditional way of learning and teaching to keep students thirsting for knowledge when there are so many distractions that result from a new technological age.

“The way I was taught in the ‘60s is not the way that should be taught today in 2014,” explains Gatling. “A lot of individuals get on that little high horse of, ‘if it was good for me, then…”

She feels that teachers and their classroom methods of engaging young learners must adapt to the changing times. “When you were a child, you didn’t have a computer so your brain didn’t have to work at a fast pace, it was trained to work at a slow, reasonable pace,” says Gatling. “So when you come with that slow pace to someone who’s been trained to move fast, they’re gonna get bored with you really quick.”

While shifting TEACH from thought to reality was a huge goal for Gatling, there was something she felt the developmental program was missing.

That all changed once Eileen Morris, Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theater of Houston, contacted Gatling about a play called No Child, by Nilaja Sun.

After reading the script, Gatling instantly felt like No Child, a one-woman play that explores New York’s public schools through the lens of various personnel in the schools, fit perfectly with TEACH and the program could finally move forward.

“Teachers are able to come in and see it and it’s not just a reflection of them, but they’re able to see that even when an outsider comes in, this is what they have to say,” says Gatling. “This is the script that teachers need, that we could then build workshops on themes found in this script.”

Not only does Gatling see No Child as an important dialogue starter for teachers, she also feels that it is of great importance to rising actors, as this one-person show style of acting was constructed in a way she hadn’t witnessed before. “It blew my mind,” says Gatling. “This is dialogue. This is jumping from to character to character to character. It is so challenging, so a part of me also wanted them to have an opportunity to see that,” she adds.

Though she now had all the factors needed for TEACH to propel forward, life had its own plans for Gatling.  With constant bookings for shows, and even graduate school to attend, Gatling was not able to completely get TEACH off the ground.

But in 2015 as a part of her senior project, Gatling plans on showcasing TEACH with No Child in Temple Theaters. “I think it would be a great launch for it because there’s so much happening in the educational system in Philadelphia,” says Gatling.

After the performance, Gatling wants there to be a session of dialogue, where discussion about important themes in the play will ensue and solutions can be addressed.

“There may not be one, or there may be several, or there may not be one we can come up with, but the least we can do is go away and think about it more,” Gatling says. “When individuals are able to talk about what they just saw, it makes for a more lasting impression.”

Thinking about TEACH and its effects on a much larger scale, Gatling has hopes to expand the problem with various plays that meet the needs of different school systems across the nation. “When we’re contacted by anyone in the country and they’re like, ‘we’re interested in having you come in and present this work to our teachers’, they’re able to then choose which one of the productions will best meet the needs of the development the teachers need to have.

Essentially, Gatling’s main goal is that TEACH brings a community of teachers together where everyone’s voice can be heard.

“I want to not only inspire teachers so that they really look to use the arts, but the main thing I want is for teachers to feel supported and that there is someone else out there to support you and help you grow.”

Gatling will appear in Temple Theaters’ production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the  Adrienne Theater this September.

Faculty Profile: Maggie Anderson

An Artist’s Passion

by Deneia Washington

Maggie Anderson headshot_oIdentifying as an introverted child, she found solace in the arts. From singing to dancing to even being a young and creative playwright, Assistant Professor Maggie Anderson’s past quest for artistic freedom soon became her life’s work.

Her captivation for theater stems from its way of highlighting the human experience and the way it brings people together. “[Theater] helps to evolve and heal each other by sharing stories and embracing humanity.

As head of the Department’s movement and dance program, Anderson teaches jazz, ballet, and musical theater dance to undergraduate theater majors. She also mentors the budding performers both in and out of the classroom. Before coming to Temple, she taught dance and movement to students of all ages: children, teen, and young adults.

“Teaching is in my blood. It has always been a calling and I have been teaching as long as I’ve been performing. It grounds me with a deep sense of purpose,” says Anderson.

In addition to her extensive teaching background, Anderson has experience in directing and choreographing. Her choreography credits includes McCarter Theatre’s The Jungle Book, Maples Repertory Theater’s Chicago, and Temple Theaters’ Oklahoma.

Anderson was first introduced to the art of movement at the age of fourteen during an African dance class. “I was hooked immediately – the drums, the rhythms, the sweat, the structure, and the discipline,” she says.  Not looking back, Anderson would begin to commit to learn various forms of dance. She now adds jazz, modern, ballet, and tap dancing to her training.

While there are many aspects that make theater, the collaboration between dance and theater is of much importance to Anderson. “When we express something through the body, the audience has a visceral response to that expression that goes beyond verbal communication,” says Anderson. “It is also an incredible devise for expressing elation, ritual, and the inner workings of a character’s mental struggle in a poetic form,” she adds.

With this in mind, Anderson makes sure movement tells a story with her choreographic formations at Temple Theaters and across New York and Philadelphia. Believing that there is no one way to tell a story, Anderson draws inspiration from wherever she feels paints the best picture.

“I know my history, and I try to honor the iconic moments when applicable; but also forge new ground when appropriate,” she says.

Theater and its hectic schedule is something Anderson embraces about the profession. But when she does have downtime, Anderson enjoys yoga, cooking, reading, and checking out some live music and theater.

“Having tools that help to rejuvenate and ground yourself is crucial,” Anderson explains.

For someone who may be trying to break into the industry, Anderson believes that curiosity must be the driving force to help one craft and make theater. She also believes that asking questions and paying attention to detail is critical in theater.

“Inspiration is a fickle muse. You must have a craft for longevity,” says Anderson.

Keeping herself grounded, Anderson remains productive and active by continuing dance training. “I still take class regularly to stay in shape and to gain new knowledge and stimulation for my teaching and creative work,” says Anderson.

Anderson is the choreographer for musical production Brigadoon, which will be opening Temple Theaters’ on campus season this fall.

Student Theater Season: A Culture of Support

New student organization develops student-driven theater

By Deneia Washington

“Vibrant culture,” describes the expected outcome of student drive in the Theater Department. With constant streams of student produced productions but moderate student engagement, one sought out to rejuvenate the culture of student theater. Junior Alex Monsell felt fit for the task.

“We have this structure, we have this set up, and we have this constitution already written.  I’m just gonna take it, I’m just gonna run very, very quickly towards getting the shows done. So that’s what I’ve been doing since,” says Monsell, who transferred to Temple University last fall.

Alex Monsell

Alex Monsell

With an attitude of “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” Monsell comes with varying experience in theater as a result of his work with Lumina Studio Theater in Silver Spring, MD that includes acting, directing, lighting, and sound.

Student Theater Season, now an official student organization, leaves the management and execution of regular performances in the hands of the students. Monsell feels that this effectively initiates collaboration and acts as a safe space for mistakes to be made into daily learning experiences.

But Student Theater Season is not only of benefit to students. It extends an opportunity for faculty to be creative while administering advice and support to students. This advising system makes it so that faculty can work closely with students on projects that are related to their professional interests.

“Faculty is now directly connecting with those students.  It’s a way to take the mentorship program we kind of have in the whole connect-with-your-adviser, asking questions; it’s a way to take that to another level,” Monsell says. “Not only am I asking you a few questions about ‘how to’ hypothetical scenario’s, I can ask you directly and you can help me directly and turn it into real world experience.”

As Temple promotes diversity amongst students, Monsell places emphasis on reaching out to other organizations with no affiliation with theater in order to help create informed artists with knowledge of what they are creating. “You can’t just be an artist in a closed little bubble, you have to listen and understand the need and the conversation about the community around you,” says Monsell. “It’s art; and you can’t do it improperly.”

Student Theater Season is also helpful to non-theater majors with peaked interests in various aspects of the arts. “We’ve had at least a couple of designers say, ‘I’m an engineer, but I did theatrical design in high school and I really want to practice my craft’ and it’s great because we don’t have many designers,” states Monsell.

In a larger sense, he believes that this type of collaboration will have a positive effect on pushing students out of their comfort zone to band together across the university, showing support to organizations that are different from their own, thus creating an influx of returned support. Monsell explains, “Even though you might not have a friend in that show, you might go support them and now they’ll come and support you. That’s having a dialogue of artists.”

Monsell sees involvement in Student Theater Season as one of the best opportunities to prepare oneself for the professional world.

“Do what you’re here for,” says Monsell. ”This is your time to explore and to say some wild and outlandish things to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

 

There are four upcoming productions scheduled for Student Theater Season, including Putting It Together and Indian Wants the Bronx  this fall in the Randall Theater. Check out Temple Theaters social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) for more information about the shows in September. Want to be involved? Email Alex at TempleTheaterSS@gmail.com.

Citizen Artist: Liz Carlson

Graduate student connects community and theater

by Deneia Washington

Outreach is what brings many college students and community leaders together with knowledge-seeking youth in hopes that new information and new tools will help one steer away from a costly and dangerous path that may harm their future.

But community outreach is not something that should be taken lightly. MFA Directing candidate Liz Carlson wants to redirect the way many go about community outreach, shifting the focus to firmly listening to those in the community we serve and the stories they have to share, in order to apply these voices and stories to theater.

Liz Carlson

Liz Carlson

“I think we use the term ‘community theater’ sort of derisively as people of theater and I think that’s really wrong,” says Carlson.  “If you expect them to listen to you, you need to listen to them as well,” she adds.

Going into undergrad as a Political Science major and graduating with a BA Communications and Theater from Eastern University in 2006, Carlson has immersed herself in the arts.

In 2007, Carlson joined Curio Theater Company, located in West Philadelphia, and has become very familiar with all components of theater. “It was a great opportunity for me to get a lot of varied experience and hands on training of the administrative side of running a theater,” says Carlson.

As the current Interim Director of Education and Development, Carlson has taken a different approach of allowing the youth’s vivid imagination to come alive. Becoming a summer instructor, starting in 2013, students from ages 6 to 17 were able to get involved in various activities that develop into one big play at the end of each camp session.

“We’re interested in this idea of ensemble and collaboration, so instead of picking a script where every kid can have a part, we start with a story and we ask the students to devise the play from the story,” she says. “It isn’t about memorizing your lines and knowing when you’re supposed to talk and where you’re supposed to stand, its ‘here’s this story that we’re going to tell. How are we going to tell it?” adds Carlson.

Though Philadelphia’s theater community is small, Carlson enjoys this close-knit community, where collaboration and support is paramount. She also recognizes the variety and diversity students from Temple University’s Theater Department bring to this community of professionals.

“I think Temple’s turning out some really fantastic theater makers. Whether they be actors, directors, or designers, you see young people come into this community and in a lot of ways, Temple prepares them very well for how to work in a professional world and also how to be generous, collaborative, and scrappy,” says Carlson.

Carlson sees great purpose on being an informed citizen to the world around you, in order to make theater with purpose and meaning. “There’s plenty of time to hone a craft and there’s plenty of time and ways to learn to be better at what you want to do, but I think you’ve got to start with understanding why,” says Carlson. She adds that, “[Theater] helps us and gives us a place to articulate our questions, but you have to know what is going on in order to have questions about it.”

At some point in her professional career, Carlson is interested in exploring how theaters can be functional and sustainable in underrepresented rural communities.

“The theater feeds the community and the community feeds the theater,” Carlson says.

 

Liz Carlson will direct Temple Theaters’ production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard running March 25 – April 4, 2015.

Capturing the Magic: Odd Girl Out

Luis Rodriguez does it again, having captured these vivacious photos of our acclaimed world premiere docudrama Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Director Doug Wager and cast created a powerful and moving drama about the bullying and relational aggression among preteen and teen-aged girls using the verbatim theater technique pioneered by Anna Devere Smith. The play is based on the New York Times best seller of the same name written by “Girl Power” advocate Rachel Simmons.

The production included scenic design by John Michael Eddy, costume design by Marie Anne Chiment, lighting and projection design by Liz Phillips, and sound design by David O’Connor. The show ran from April 23 – May 3 in the Randall Theater, with an extension for PlayQuest student matinees from May 19 – 22.

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Capturing the Magic: HAIR

Our photographer Luis Rodriguez captured these wonderful photos of our wildly successful production of the classic 1960s show, Hair: The American Tribal-Love Rock Musical. Director Brandon McShaffrey, along with choreographer Maggie Anderson and musical director Hana J. Cai, created a powerful and moving piece of musical theater. The production included scenic design by Professor Fred. M. Duer, costume design by Kabrina Feickert, lighting design by Aaron Crosby, and sound design by Susan Adelizzi. The show ran from March 26 – April 6 in the Tomlinson Theater.

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Temple Theaters’ World Premiere ODD GIRL OUT

Temple Theaters’ produces a world premiere drama on bullying

Temple Theaters concludes its 2013–2014 season with a groundbreaking new drama, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Adapted and directed by Douglas C. Wager, associate dean of the Division of Theater, Film and Media arts, it is based on a pioneering book of the same name by Rachel Simmons, an author and educator.

For that book, Rachel Simmons interviewed more than 300 students about the silent and indirect ways girls bully each other. She revealed how girls are taught to suppress negative emotions, leading them to resort to expressing anger, jealousy and disappointment with “relational aggression”—harm caused by damaging another’s reputation, social status or relationships.

Cast of ODD GIRL OUT

Cast of ODD GIRL OUT

Inspired by the social struggles of his teenage daughter, Wager began developing the play last spring with a Rehearsal and Performance class that focused on Odd Girl Out. Students used interviews, audio immersion and improvisation to explore the topics Simmons presented.

“In the class, we learned many techniques of the audio-immersion process,” said senior Jaclyn DiFerdinando, a cast member and student of the workshop class. “Instead of receiving a script and creating a character based on the text, we listen to the recording of an interview and try to become that person. We try to mimic voice and speech patterns and truly embody the person. We also worked in small groups to create pieces based on chapters in the book.”

In creating their stage production, Wager and the cast conducted their own interviews with girls and women ages 8 to 30. As an official university research project, all participants had to be approved by Temple’s Institutional Review Board to conduct personal interviews for research. The actors conducted more than 30 interviews with Temple students, current high school students, parents and others during the first half of the spring 2014 semester.

DiFerdinando interviewed several people, including high school girls, middle school students and a mother. “The most surprising thing I learned was how pervasive bullying among females is,” she said. “Everyone experiences it at some point in their lives, and it sticks with them.”

The book provides a framework in which the monologues (created from the interviews) and short scenes (developed by the ensemble) are performed. The play also includes poems set to original music and video. The cast of 13 women—12 undergraduates and one graduate student—performs a variety of roles, from middle-school-age boys and teenage outcasts to guidance counselors and mothers.

Working on the project has been a powerful experience for many of the actors, including Anna Lou Hearn. “I had an epiphany when I began to read the book for class,” she said. “I discovered I wasn’t alone. Being able not only to help girls have the epiphany I did, but also to give voice to girls we interviewed is a privilege.”

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls runs Wednesday, April 23, to Saturday, May 3, in Randall Theater, accessible through Annenberg Hall. Tickets are $20 (general admission), $15 (students, seniors and Temple staff) and $5 for Temple students. All tickets are subjected to applicable fees. Visit templetheaters.ticketleap.com or call 215-204-1122.

This story also appeared online at Temple University’s News Center.