At the end of the first week of classes, the department told all of its first year students—freshmen and transfer alike—to go home.
All first year students are enrolled in TD 311C Performance as Public Practice, an introduction course for all majors. This class is an innovative introduction to theatre and dance, unlike many courses seen at other institutions. It is designed to help students discover and develop their artistic, scholarly and pre-professional interests and investments in theater and dance. It is taught in five sections by the Performance as Public Practice faculty—Drs. Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, Charlotte Canning (program head), Andrew Carlson and Laura Gutierrez.
The course goals are diverse, from accounting for the multiple ways theater and dance work are made public in their specific market sectors, to demonstrating a familiarity with diverse forms of dramatic literature and performance, to analyzing the ethical implications and professional dilemmas of theatrical and choreographic representations in performance. Students also develop their own artist’s statement.
So why do we send them home? So they can discuss how the arts operate in their cities and towns. This year students filed into the B. Iden Payne Theatre to find an enormous map of Texas drawn on the stage deck. Thanks to Professor Bill Bloodgood, nationally recognized scenic designer and head of the Design and Technology area, students could go home—onstage at least.
Students were asked:
- What live performance have you seen in your home town?
- Who produced it? A school? Community center? Professional organization?
- Was it typical of work available locally? How so, or not?
- What is important for the rest of us to know about the arts in your area?
Their discussions were lively and passionate. Even in parts of Texas with little access to a professional arts scene, community and school theatres supplied students with rich and engaging experiences of live performance.
The questions were designed to start students thinking along the lines of the course description and goals. Their answers demonstrated that they are ready to do so. Some focused on markets and demands and paid particular attention to the ways that professional opportunities cluster around the major metropolitan areas. Many students also noted that in cities and towns alike the community sector plays a strong role in advancing opportunities—paying opportunities and non-paying opportunities alike—and training artists. And so many were proud of their community sector. They also touched on the government sector, particularly the schools that teach and promote artistic practice, very often through UIL. Students recognized that their participation in these events, the UIL ones in particular, introduced them to communities and networks, another domain of support.
As the session drew to a close, faculty pointed out to the students that their place on the stage as a group brought them into another, very important community through which they will network. They are Longhorns, they are Theatre and Dance majors and they are the class of 2020. Those are communities that can and will support them across their entire artistic lives.
The faculty of TD 311C sent the students home so they could remind themselves of what brought them to The University of Texas at Austin in the first place: the desire to develop their love and knowledge of live performance and truly understand that “what starts here changes the world.” A great journey has begun.
By Dr. Charlotte Canning (Bio)
Area Head, Performing as Public Practice