As my first post here, I wanted to introduce myself as one of the 2017/2018 cohort of Humanities Alliance fellows. I’m a New Zealander, born and raised in Wellington, which is also where I completed a BA in Theatre and French at Victoria University. For most of my life my parents have worked at that same university (college for Americans!). My mother, an English professor, still does; my father had a big career shift a while back to become CEO of the NZSO, eventually moving to the same role with Chamber Music NZ, but this followed many years in the music department. So, to some extent, I grew up steeped in academia; “please, don’t talk about the university!” was a dinnertime cry from my sister and me on more than one occasion, I’m pretty sure! As much as I sometimes wanted to deny it, I am my parents’ child and I was in my element at college.
Perhaps too with a mother in English literature and a father in musicology and performance, it’s not surprising that my main love has always been acting. Acting is what first brought me to the States, when I came to New York to pursue my MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. I found SLC in a roundabout way. I was living in France, working as an au pair, and on a French literature MA thesis. At the time I was interested in physical theatre, so visited the Ecole Jacques LeCoq. It didn’t seem like the right place for me, but I met another woman there on an exchange from SLC, looked it up, and about a year later found myself in Bronxville, Westchester. After my MFA, I took the allowed extra year on my student visa and ended up in Greensboro, NC, teaching theatre and French at Guilford Technical Community College (NC is a whole other story)! This was my first introduction to a community college. Altogether the U.S. tertiary system is very different from that of New Zealand. SLC was already very different, but it’s its own unique place anyway – to describe Sadie Lou as different is merely to quote what was then its motto: “you’re different and so are we” (sadly, I think it has since changed).
I returned to Wellington and took on as much work as an actor and director as I could find. I also was fortunate enough to get some teaching work in the speech, English, and theatre departments of Wellington’s two main tertiary institutions. A lot of my directing work also was with young performers and I think there is considerable crossover between the rehearsal room and the classroom. I certainly draw on my theatrical experience a lot when navigating the challenges of creating a productive and hopefully energized learning environment for 25 or so diverse individuals.
Returning to New York to join the doctoral theatre program at the Graduate Center, and teaching in the CUNY system, however, introduced some completely new challenges to me. My experience in North Carolina gave me a little idea of what to expect, but not much (especially as the theatre class I taught was essentially directing the department play). Not only had I only taught one semester in the particular context of a U.S. undergraduate classroom, the whole idea of a community college was still pretty unfamiliar to me, let alone all of the institutional particularities. Teaching to a single medium sized class, as opposed to New Zealand’s typical system of small “tutorials,” often run by the equivalent of an adjunct such as myself, to complement the large lectures by full-time faculty was also a relatively new experience. All of this wasn’t just new to me as a teacher, I had never experienced as a student either.
It has, however, been a rewarding, if sometimes challenging, learning experience to understand the difficult but absolutely essential role community colleges play in the U.S. educational system (hell, in the U.S economy, social system, and entire cultural make-up)! The richly diverse community found in community colleges is, of course, an integral part of their value—and indeed invites contemplation of what “community” means in America’s increasingly economically segregated society. I am therefore so pleased to join another little community—the scholars, teachers, and artists that make up the Humanities Alliance. I look forward to joining the discussion!