Notes from a Teaching Artist: A Teaching Artist Prepares

IMG_3239New Year’s resolution: provide a monthly blog for Brelby that focuses on artistry and education in the performing arts. Once a month, expect a blog entry for Notes from a Teaching Artist, a new Brelby Buzz series from my noisy brain that casts a wide net, covering topics related to educational theatre and theatre artistry. There are no limits to topics—I don’t want to chalk myself into a tight box. I’m chiefly interested in creating a dialogue with the Brelby community, both artists and audiences. I’m also interested in reaching out to teaching artists—and those who are teaching artists, but don’t know it yet—to create an ongoing discussion on creative praxis (the ongoing practice of creativity).

I hope you’ll participate in this monthly series by posting comments on Facebook, by catching me in person at Brelby, or by contacting me. I can be reached at

Let’s jump in!

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I thought “A Teaching Artist Prepares” would be a good title for our inaugural adventure together into the world of theatre education and artistry. It brings to mind Stanislavsky’s seminal An Actor Prepares and Bogart’s lesser known, yet amazing, A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre. My thoughts won’t capture the magnitude of the mentioned texts, but I aspire to provide a brief set of ideas related to teaching artistry in the hopes of opening up the dialogue of theatre education for the Brelby community.

What is a teaching artist? When I first heard the title, I remember thinking, “Why don’t you just call them a teacher? Why are they a teaching artist? We don’t need more fluffy words in the theatre!” And yet…the title is crucial—the title is the embodiment a mutually beneficial relationship.

A teaching artist is an arts educator that is actively involved in creating art while facilitating educational opportunities in traditional or non-traditional classroom settings. Once I began work as a teaching artist, I became immediately aware of the powerful connection between my teaching and my art. I started to realize that the two areas fed each other. I found that I was becoming a stronger theatre artist because I was teaching and a stronger teacher because I was creating theatre. Allow me to explain this bizarre and natural phenomenon by referencing Philip Taylor’s The Drama Classroom: Action, Reflection, and Transformation.

I believe art is transformative—I believe in A.R.T.

A – Action

R – Reflection

T – Transformation

The relationship between action, reflection, and transformation is a natural relationship for theatre artists. Imagine you are in rehearsal and you are running a scene (Action). The director and actors have an idea of what they want to accomplish. As they work on the scene, they stop and ask questions about their progress and question whether or not moments are weaker than other moments (Reflection). The director and actors are in constant communication and make adjustments to seek out stronger choices. Then they try the scene again with the new changes (Transformation).  

A.R.T. is a part of creative praxis. An artist makes a decision, reflects on the strength of that decision, and makes adjustments toward stronger choices. It’s an endless, awesome, frustrating, holy, and rewarding process.

This same process can be translated to education.

A teacher develops a learning objective for students and determines a path toward actively engaging in activities that meet the learning objective (Action). The next step for the teacher—a critical step—is to provide a reflective activity that allows the students to recognize their progress toward the learning objective (Reflection). A reflective activity is wide-open. The reflective activity could be a discussion, role-playing, creating a work of art, journal entry, etc. What is important is to allow a student the opportunity to self-reflect. In my opinion, a test or a quiz simply doesn’t cut it (yes, I opened that can of worms). Once a student has demonstrated self-awareness through reflection, the goal is for the student to experience a level of change directly related to the learning objective (Transformation).

Thus, the areas of creative praxis and pedagogy (the theory and practice of teaching) are similar. A.R.T. captures the creative process in the theatre and the lesson planning framework of the traditional/non-traditional classroom experience. Yes, I recognize that I’m turning mountains into mole-hills with my brief overview, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of A.R.T.

As a teaching artist, I often engage in activities with students that have a direct impact on my development as a director, actor, and playwright…even as a dramaturg. An example…

When creating original work with 2nd graders in a New York City after school program, I consistently moved through skills as a teacher, director, actor, and playwright—the mystery was to accept that all of the areas were always connected…there was no box. I may have had an acting lesson in improvisation that translated to a musical number…then that musical number related to a reflective activity that we had done…now we had two scenes…a movement piece would be a great transition…and so on and so on. I was in constant communication with the students on what they thought was best, we would often vote, make choices, and keep moving forward. Were there road bumps? Many. There are always road bumps…but the process was always rewarding and continued to build upon itself from week to week.

How does A.R.T. impact Brelby? This spring, we are offering several workshop opportunities for artists to expand their craft…to transform. I will be facilitating the playwriting portion of a new production intensive, working with a youth theatre ensemble, and kicking off a new, monthly group for playwrights called Write Club. A.R.T. captures the essence of who I am as a teaching artist—it’s an important part of why I do what I do. My goal is to work collaboratively with artists and students, in the rehearsal process or in a classroom setting, and to create an environment with the potential for transformation.

The offerings for Brelby workshops and classes should be posted. All classes begin in February. There are also workshops—called Brelby Master Classes—offered at various times throughout the spring.  

I encourage you to consider your interests and artistry and seek out those opportunities of transformation that you desire. Additionally, if there are areas of theatre that you are curious to learn more about, please let me, Shelby, or Brian know, and we will take your thoughts into consideration as Brelby’s educational offerings continue to develop.

Some questions for your consideration…

  • What are your thoughts on the relationship between teaching and artistry?
  • Do you believe there is a connection between the two?
  • Do you believe the creative process is transformational?
  • How were you changed by a theatre process?


Please consider posting a response to any of these questions or about anything from the blog that sparked your interests.

Finally, let me know if there is anything specific you would like me to write about by posting a comment or emailing me at

Thanks for reading! 🙂

– j

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