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Philosophy of Teaching

Developing Well-Rounded Storytellers


          Early in my career, I was torn between my love of acting and my love for design. A wise mentor saw me struggling to commit, took me aside, and gave me advice I have relied on ever since. “Working in the arts, is like riding a train. Once you are on the train, you can travel to any car you want to…but to get started, you have to get on the train” I took that to heart and realized that I didn’t have to choose one craft over the other. My acting training would strengthen my design skills and vice versa. It is advice I have given to many of my students and peers over the years. Theatre is the art of collaboration. Embracing the many disciplines that make up this storytelling form is integral to being a strong theatre artist. Encouraging design students to look at their work as if they were directors, actors, or from a different area of design always leads to new discoveries and perspectives they otherwise would not have considered.

Focusing on the Script

          Students need a strong understanding of playscript analysis. Whatever their area of focus, students are not only artisans and craftspeople, but fellow collaborators. Whatever their role in the production, they are there to contribute as storytellers. Which means they must know the plot, characters, and themes as well as any other member of the production team, on or off the stage. In critiquing student projects, the group should dissect how design choices are supporting the text, rather than praising what looks ‘cool’. Students should build design vocabulary to identify the building blocks of a strong design concept as it relates to thematic elements in the text. Class projects should push student skill sets in rendering, creative thinking, and scale. All those efforts are driven by the script and under the advice of the director.

Balancing Lectures and Demonstrations with Mentorship

          Introducing new costume technology and materials is an exciting day in class. Safety concerns and shop protocol are always top priority when working with new tools. Lectures and demonstrations ensure that the entire class is prepared to use class materials properly as they experiment and create. Once the instructor is confident that students can work safely, it is their responsibility to pull back and allow students to learn through hands on experience with materials. This does not lessen instructor engagement. As students work, instructors take careful notes of progress, struggles, and questions. Taking time with each student to check in and confirm understanding helps students feel taken care of as well as provide an opportunity for questions in a more private setting. The instructor can use those check in moments to redemonstrate techniques, help problem solve, or encourage students in their progress. Practical teaching is about the balance of explaining new ideas, showing expertise, and guiding a student to develop their own technical skills.

Adapting to Each Student

          Every student is different and will have different barriers to learning. This means an umbrella approach to lectures and work sessions will not serve every student’s needs. It is important for instructors to provide a variety of learning experiences to help eliminate as many of these barriers as possible.

Such experiences include:

  • Providing reading materials before a class, for students who like to carefully read over material at their own pace

  • Demonstrations of technique in class, for students who would prefer to be shown how to perform a new task before attempting it themselves

  • Handouts with visual aids, for visual learners

  • Practical experiences, for students to apply lecture and theory in an actual project

  • Providing links to video tutorials that go into greater depth or a different perspective of classroom materials

By creating variety within the classroom experience, different learners are given the power to understand the material in a way that best suits their mind and skill set.

Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in Design


          Equity, diversity, and inclusion have become priorities to the theatre arts in recent years. Costume design can impact casting and character analysis. When costume designers create design renderings, they make decisions about the race, body type, gender expression, and social class of the character depicted. Costume designers can break barriers, defy stereotypes, and open the minds of directors and producers to new casting possibilities. It’s an important step to create greater equity on stage as well as inspire greater innovation for silhouettes and body positivity backstage. As instructors make this a focus in their teaching, their students will be inspired to create more diverse representation within their projects. This will breathe new life into classical theatre pieces as well as encourage inclusive new works. As instructors encourage diverse representation in design work, they should also caution sensitivity regarding culture, nationality, race, and religion. Character interpretations and visual references should be well-researched. Students should be encouraged to collaborate with that community, with the understanding that no one person is monolith for an entire culture. At times, students might cross the line into telling someone else’s story, at which point they should be guided to make a more appropriate choice for their design. If properly prepared and educated to these sensitive subjects, students of all backgrounds can be mentored to create work that is inclusive and meaningful.

Listening and Discernment


        Listening and discernment are critical to a successful classroom experience. Class time is a safe space for students to share ideas and constructive criticism. At times students might express discomfort over critiquing their classmates’ projects. Under the direction of an experienced instructor, students learn how to provide helpful responses to each other as well as respect the opinions of their peers and audience. This is demonstrated by the instructor who asks questions to understand student choices rather than planting specific ideas for the student to blindly follow. This example encourages students to ask thoughtful questions rather than simply comment.  Students are empowered to think critically of design choices and to function as collaborators rather than followers.

          Exchanging feedback can be difficult for young designers. It can be intimidating to share your ideas and artwork. This can lead to students shutting down or withdrawing from the group discussion. It is important for the instructor to discern the root cause of such a withdrawal and help the student work through the issue and rejoin the discussion. That involves a private conversation with student, reinforcing all the positive attributes they have demonstrated in class, asking thoughtful questions for clarification, and drawing on professional experience to provide quality advice. By resolving such concerns, learning barriers are overcome, which leads to greater academic progress. Modeling proper listening and discernment allow students to think through their design choices, resolve their concerns, and practice collaboration.

Sample Syllabus

A syllabus format that I devised to help develop and organize curriculum. The sample provided is for a Special Topics Course in Projection Design through the use of After Effects. I created the curriculum for the course under the advise of multiple industry professionals and within University standards. 

Sample Lesson Plan and Rubric

A lesson plan format that helps me present prepared, focused lectures and work sessions for my students. I also present rubrics/guidelines as we begin a new project so students have a clear idea of how I will grade and what qualities I am looking for in their work.  

Sample Handouts and Supplementary Materials

I make myself available to my students as much as I can. At times, it can clarify confusion or answer future concerns to provide them with handouts and supplementary tutorials ahead of time. These are a few samples of such materials I've created to help guide students through their workflow as they learn to utilize technology in the design process. 

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