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Coming Full Circle

November 15, 2013

Flashback, September 2003: I’m 18 going on 33. No, wait. I’m 18. I’m not particularly mature for my age – but not immature either. Regardless, I’ve always felt “old”. At 18 I was driven, curious, ambitious and intimidated by the big city I had moved to for college. I was inspired and overwhelmed by every new idea that was presented to me in and out of school. I was convinced that everyone I met was so much smarter, more talented and worldly than I was. How could the girl from the Jersey Shore compare with the sophisticated New York kids? The transition from high school to college was hard. I’m beginning to see how that sentiment is shared universally and across generations. While I didn’t experience homesickness in the way I’ve seen it in others – the influx of new ideas, ways of thinking and living were completely overwhelming. How do I create my life like the people I read about in class? What can I do to make my life rich, creative, fulfilling and inspiring like the artists and activists I admire? Is there at Judy Chicago’s Dinner Table for me?

Image(Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party)

I still ask these questions from time to time.

I’ve struggled for months with how to begin this piece. 3 months, exactly.  Sometimes, in cases like this where there is just so much to say, I don’t know where to start so I don’t. I’m trying to get over that because this is one of the most important things that’s ever happened to me and I have to learn how to tell my story. I’m going to try and explain without romanticizing it but I may fail. Here we go:

I have taken on a teaching position in the Performing Arts Department at Pace University, my alma matter. The timing is ironic as exactly ten years ago I was entering Pace as a freshman. Now, I’m teaching freshmen in an extraordinary progressive BA Acting and Directing program that focuses on creating ensemble-devised work called International Performance Ensemble.

My class meets 10 hours per week, with a dinner break and the occasional 5 minute break (when I remember). I was losing sleep the weeks prior to the beginning of class as I was convinced there was absolutely no way I could ever fill up 10 hours of class time. In retrospect, I love the work so much I could probably do 20 or 40 hours per week.

The class is an ensemble devised theatre company with its own name and mission called Generation Why?. The company’s mission is to use theatre to shed light on prominent social issues. Aside from developing the students as well rounded, critically thinking artists – one of our goals is to develop a body of work over the next few years that the students can take with them into the world after undergrad. In May 2014 we will debut our first piece on the American Dream. Next fall we will perform it in NYC and in spring of 2015 we will take it abroad. Where else in the US can you find a BA Acting/Directing Program that helps young artists create a body of work they can transition into the “real world”? (No, really. I’d love to know so I can learn about their work.)

Image(Generation Why? company photo shoot. September, 2013)

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to personally know each of my students through our long hours together and artistic journal they turn in each week.  Every single one of them is an inspiring, beautiful and creative soul.  Each one of them are so unique, intelligent, funny and talented. I recall professors telling me this when I was 18 and I wrote it off with the excuse of s/he is paid to be nice to me. I’m very excited to see where their careers take them. Each of them have the potential to do incredible things if they continue to stay focused and work hard.

Image(Photo with some of my students at a performance for UNICEF. They performed alongside Girl Be Heard.)

Flashback, July 2013: I am sitting with my mentor, a former sociology professor of mine in our booth at the diner near Columbus Circle we’ve been frequenting for a few years. I just signed my official faculty paperwork and the adrenaline of calling myself “professor” combined with the sheer terror of the responsibilities that come with that title and the work load I was about to take on was in full force.  I am cramming my head with every bit of wisdom from his 20-something years of experience. I want to know everything from how to navigate Blackboard, the online grading and communication system to handling various crises that will inevitably arise. No informative stone will be left unturned. 

Finally, I ask him point-blank:

What is the most important piece of wisdom you can tell me before classes begin?

His response:

Just love them.

Remember how fragile they are. Remember how fragile everyone is.

I try to remember this in every interaction I have at school and in life.

The truth is, he (and others) have set the ultimate example. I am ecstatic to give back what was given to me. I’ve come full circle.

Ashley Signature

One Comment leave one →
  1. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    November 17, 2013 4:49 pm

    This is phenomenal. I wish that there had been a program out there like this when I was applying for college (or that I had known then that this is what I wanted to do but then, what’s the fun in not taking the journey to find that out?)

    – I have no regrets about how my college experience has turned out so far but I am so glad that you are doing this! Your class has no idea how lucky they are 🙂

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