As we continue to bridge the gaps between scholarship and practice, experiential and traditional education, and process and product, we are noted for supporting research, experimenting with untraditional means of education, and inviting professionals from all over the world to train our dancers and theatre students.
On my 38-hour adventure home from attending the 2nd International Theatre Festival at the American University of Sharjah with three terrific graduate students and our Director or Marketing/Company Manager, I had much time to reflect about the importance of our School of Theatre and Dance's emphasis on gaining an international reputation. The trip home was hellish: lost luggage, two additional TSA screenings (one, in Dallas, which made us miss our flight), and some massive gate confusion in Madrid. But the trip was amazing, as has been all of our international adventures, and so worth the exhaustion upon returning.
Some of you may question why an international presence is so important for a West Texas university, one that is intent on proving it offers an education unlike any other institution in the country. Certainly, we can't worry about international success unless we first achieve a national reputation for excellence, and we are in the process of accomplishing this. In the last seven years--what with WildWind Performance Lab, the Marfa Intensives, the Tennessee Williams Festival, Kennedy Center and American Dance Festival honors, and faculty/students presenting/chairing festivals all over the country—TTU is known for supporting its students and faculty much more than most other universities. We have increased our student body, and we now turn away many graduate students, when we once accepted all who applied; we have a reputation for caring about our students, for mentoring them well, and for providing them with the resources to work in the arts.
As we continue to bridge the gaps between scholarship and practice, experiential and traditional education, and process and product, we are noted for supporting research, experimenting with untraditional means of education, and inviting professionals from all over the world to train our dancers and theatre students. At our accreditation agencies, National Associations for Schools of Theatre and Dance (NAST, NASD), we are held up as models of excellence, and our faculty are invited to lead sessions training other theatre educators to emulate our programs and leadership. For the third year in a row, for example, I've been asked to train leaders both new and returning, and this is quite an honor for a School that wasn't accredited eight years ago, and had 32 infractions our first year.
With Dean Zahler's arrival, he has encouraged us to reach out beyond our national borders to establish partnerships that will impact our School, and although I realized the impact on a theoretical level, it wasn't until we visited Hong Kong, Turkey, Prague, and Sharjah, and then invited students from there here, that I understood it fully.
This past summer, we had 11 guests from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts visit WildWind Performance Lab, two as mentors (acting and dramaturgy), and nine students working alongside with us in acting and playwriting. First observation: the 9 students got in at midnight, claiming, "Texas is so WIDE," and after grabbing a meal from Whataburger and getting to bed around 2 am, they were the first to arrive at the inaugural session, 45 minutes early, to warm up. The nine who traveled to WildWind had competed to come, and although English was a second or third language for most of them, they embraced every challenge, so much so that they gave new meaning to the words diligence and commitment. It's not that our students are inferior, but they did learn much about committing to the physical, and, in turn, the students from Hong Kong embraced the emotional, very new to them. Associate Dean, Janice Poon, remarked that the students who visited with us learned much, and it was evident in the year that followed in their performances and commitment to education, so we will continue that relationship.
Jason Hale, Chair of Theatre at Bilkent University at Turkey, runs a department much like Yale in Ankara. Their 6-8 students are chosen from hundreds of auditionees, and their program runs much like a conservatory, very different from ours. The two students who ventured to Marfa from Ankara were brilliant, funny, and well taught. They not only taught our students to take risks, to communicate beyond language, and to embrace their inner selves, but they learned devising, best collaborative processes, and the value of using the environment to create art.
Jason Hale is visiting in a week so that we can articulate a Memo of Agreement, encouraging our students and faculty to share resources, and we are in the process of similar agreements with Swaziland, Shanghai, and Singapore. Our students are collaborating individually and collectively with students from all over the world, initiated by friendships they created, and, in doing so, their potential and training as artists and researchers increases tenfold.
So back to our recent adventure to Sharjah. Not only did we present a very successful original, collaboratively-conceived show, Public Domain: A Play with Footnotes, but our grad students both taught and took workshops with international superstars. Cory and I presented a playwriting slam, encouraging nine new students to express their voices in ten-minute plays. When we auditioned, rehearsed and presented these nine new perspectives, it was obvious that students share some of the same concerns worldwide, and that, somehow was comforting to me.
In all of this travel, then, TTU students are learning to realize that world of theatre and dance is a much smaller place than they envisioned, not the opposite, and that embracing an international community of artists not only furthers their education, but also offers untold opportunities for growth, for professional work, and most of all, for true spiritual growth.