some things I learned in my year at grad school

1. The unbelievably helpful concept of the theater apparatus. How I made it through undergrad without learning it, I don’t know (probably because I barely showed up, literally and figuratively, to my Contemporary Performance Theories class–sorry, Shawn Marie, I was working on a play!).

Basically, the apparatus of the theater includes, among other things, the actual physical building of the theater, the business mechanism of the theater (producers, etc.) which facilitates production and often dictates play selection, and audience expectations of what a play should be and deliver. The apparatus operates the theater. You can either make work to fit the apparatus, or resist it in some way. Either way, however, the apparatus always wins: it will always absorb and assimilate things that are strange and new (think: The Borg. Or what happened to “punk”). Your only hope is that the apparatus itself changes in the process of absorbing.

2. Look, you theory-head jerks, all “theory” means is critical discourse, which has been going on as long as art has been made and philosophy discussed. (Full disclosure, I have had a ferocious seething hatred of “theory” as a stand-alone discourse since college.) Current theater academia proves its own belief in a false dichotomy between “theory” and “practice” in the very act of (disingenuously) bemoaning the separation between the two, asserting a (disingenuous) desire to unite them. The very act of consistently separating “theory” and “practice” in discussion proves an underlying belief in the rightness of such a split. If not for the fact that practical experience makes a newly-minted PhD more hirable for university positions, I don’t think high theorists would care if their students ever engaged in play/performance-making ever again.

Theory and practice have always been different stages of the same process. The separation of the two is based on false premises.

3. A new appreciation for critical context.

I don’t know how else to describe, but let’s just say I’ve started reading introductions to books more often. TA’ing for Theater History taught me more than the seminars I took–the ways historical/critical context can enliven and open up one’s approach to a text brings me immense pleasure.

4. Undergraduate education is wasted on undergraduates .

5. Teaching forces one to be a much more careful reader.

6. A teacher should replace confidence and control with humility and passion. A difficult task, one I will spend the rest of my life attempting to master.

7. If your program does not encourage conversation, within and between departments, there is no point.

8. Going back and reading the Great Works at an older age reaps incalculable rewards. Reading some of these plays again has been like reading them for the first time. Of course, I’m talking about, among other things, Hamlet.


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