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Theatre Professor’s Course Culminates with a Trip to MIT for Six UTA Students
The Theatre Department at UT Arlington just took teaching diversity and inclusion a step further and put it into practice. A two-semester long collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Theatre Arts & Dance Department culminated with a five-day trip for six UTA students to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a performance titled Design for the Future, a three-step journey to the creation of a devised instillation.
The trip, led by Theatre Professor J. Austin Eyer, brought together six UTA Theatre students and twelve MIT students for final performances for the hybrid course, “Queer-Feminist-Antiracism and Design for the Future.” “The opportunity to study with artists, engineers, and scientists at MIT gave these UTA students an experience of how rewarding creative research can be,” Eyer said.
The course was co-taught by Professor Austin Eyer and MIT Professor Danielle Wood. Course material included works by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Ibram Kendi, Gloria Anzaldúa, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ntozake Shange, and Zora Neale Hurston.
“My goal as an undergraduate student was to be a performer on Broadway,” said Eyer. “I put all my time and energy into commercial theatre after graduation. While I enjoyed my time working on Broadway, there was a part of me that didn't feel fulfilled. It wasn't until later in life that I discovered I could engage in research as an artist. I could bring theory, science, statistics, and current events into my creative work.”
Eyer talks about the concept for this devised theatre course, “The idea for this study was born in Fall 2020, following conversations with undergraduate Theatre Arts and Dance students. Several of them expressed a deep interest in creative research related to liberatory theatre. The focus of our study--how are we designing a more just future as we create and produce theatre? Which systems of oppression might discourage young people from engaging in theatre as a profession? How might creative work that is queer, feminist, and anti-racist have a positive impact on community and society?”
The answer was Devised Theatre. Devised Theatre creates art using a strong collaboration between the actors and creative team. The writing of the “script” often starts in rehearsals but is preceded by thorough discussions or research that pulls from art, literature, music, new articles, theory, or current events. Since the final performance is created in rehearsal, the roles of author/director/creator are usually shared among all collaborators.
“Having the opportunity to creatively explore my thoughts and emotions about the world we live in, especially after studying it from an academic and theoretical point, was very liberating,” said Analisa Salinas, graduating senior. “I am so grateful to have been able to attain knowledge and insight into these civil rights movements and their history while being able to create something that is empowering and hopeful for the future, especially in collaboration with such wonderful people.”
As part of the course, students from MIT and UTA wrote and composed three pieces alongside the course instructors, guest artist Jennifer Harrison Newman, and projectionist Paul Lieber. The final performance explored the concept of joy - drawing from the rich traditions explored in the class of Black, queer and feminist cultural innovation. Emily Truelove, a senior musical theatre student remarked, “To know that, for decades, queer, feminist, and antiracist activists and writers have been feeling not just anger towards injustice, but joy for their own intersectionality was important for me to learn at this point in both my artistic and personal life.”
The class also introduces students to a Design Thinking Framework called Systems Architecture which encourages them to consider societal challenges as part of a complex system with environmental, social and economic aspects that must be taken into account.
Eyer echoed his students’ sentiments about the experience, “I am confident that this will continue to have a profound effect on their work in the classroom, as well as new creative projects moving forward.”