M.F.A. Students Learn by Teaching

By Annie Sears

M.F.A. student Caleb Lewis teaches at Downtown High. Photo by Jasmin Hoo.
Mistakes may be our best teachers, but for A.C.T.’s M.F.A. students, teaching is their best teacher. Our M.F.A. students graduate not only with a degree in acting, but also with a certificate in citizen artistry—integrating who they are as artists with who they are as people and exploring ways to comprehensively impact their communities through theater.

“In choosing an M.F.A. program,” says third-year M.F.A. student Katherine Romans, “I knew I wanted the capacity to teach, to maybe direct, and to be a part of my community. So this citizen artistry is a huge part of what drew me to A.C.T.”

M.F.A. students hone their citizen artistry through teaching. In their second and third years, students develop and execute lesson plans for A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory classes and other Bay Area arts programs. These classes range from physical acting to improv to musical theater. Each course has a specialized curriculum, but they all strive towards the same goal: giving students tools for self-expression.

In each of her YC classes, Romans asks students to stand before their classmates and read something that they care about—whether that’s simple or complicated, their dog or feminism. “High schoolers are often affected by the fear of making themselves vulnerable,” says Romans. “I encourage them to be clear, to feel open, and to feel that their narrative matters.”

Fellow third-year student Göran Norquist also empowers his students to trust their own voice. In the YC musical theater class he co-taught this past summer, he asked students to create their own choreography and write their own lyrics. “We gave them the opportunity to take full ownership of what makes them happy,” says Norquist. “Each artist I worked with this summer was brave and moved forward in some way. That was the most incredible thing to witness.”

These M.F.A. candidates say they benefit just as much as their students, both artistically and personally. Making lesson plans for beginners forces M.F.A. students to review and refine the basics of their craft. Third-year M.F.A. student Jerrie Johnson says, “If you can’t explain it to a nine-year-old, how well do you really know this thing?”

“It’s important for me to feel the connection between what I do as an artist and as an actor with how I live my life and who I am,” says third-year student Caleb Lewis. “Doing this helps reminds us where we came from, remember the basics, apply what we learn, and feel purpose.”

To learn more about A.C.T.’s M.F.A. program, click here.

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