How do I explain what I do? By Yusef Miller for the Roundtable Teaching Artists Affairs Committee

  

            Um, I teach.

            Um, I’m a teacher. But not really?

            I’m an Actor. I work for Arts Education Organizations….What do I DO?

            Um, I’m called a Teaching Artist. A Theatre Teaching Artist.

Okay, I’ll give you the CV one-sentence summary.

I am an advocate for programming that utilizes theatre arts to help achieve literacy and educational objectives within youth populations.

But, that doesn’t really explain what I do. The truth is – I am finding my way. From this finding-my-way place, I have found myself in a system. This system claims to educate young people. This education is supposed to give them direction – school to college to career. But from street to class – they are harassed – presumed to be criminally minded – as they are bagged-checked and body frisked and in some case, manhandled by security – this is their entry to learning. Meanwhile, their Black and Latino families are stretched so far and so thin on a nation’s apathy. To come to school and be mishandled and unheard, students are like,

“Let me express myself, Ms. Let me take the whole class time for you to explore why I walk in late, why I’m eating in class, why I’m yelling back, why I’m speaking without raising my hand, why I need to take a break – to get out of your face, Ms. because you don’t understand that I don’t care what you know; I want to know if you CARE.”

I….I teach theatre as a tool of expression. I’m finding a way to connect to their content and modes of expression. It’s listening without judgment; it’s avoiding the urge to culturally critique. I’m finding a way to apply a theatrical lens to who they are and where they come from, FIRST. It’s like pulling teeth to ask them to tell a non-violent story or to imagine a delivery beyond the World Star videos. But, I’m finding a way to facilitate as community member, ally. Some times who I am appears to be an affront. I’m Black. Male. Educated. An Artist. I have expectations. AND I CARE. I’m never afraid to let them know I care. I’m never afraid to show them I care. I’m never afraid to speak to them frankly, familiarly, like nieces and nephews. I’m never afraid to buck the generational distance. I’m finding my way to impact using the skills I have. They reject what I know on some days. I’m finding varied ways to model the imagination at work. I want them to see the freedom one could gain from developing a character, a world, or rearticulating their circumstances for whatever purpose THEY choose.

I take a breath before delivering a monologue – I give them a thumb – one, two, three, the young audience is in no one’s syncopation. But I get it. I get them. I swallow. I begin my monologue. I hope I’m free enough to quell the side chatter – to ignite their risk taking. I am finding my way, knowing there is a way.

As flawed as that, I am a Theatre Teaching Artist and this is what I do. What do you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Charles Anthony Burks says:

Yusef,
Well said my friend! I have many similar sentiments that reflect reaching the youth while not being judgemental. Also finding a way to navigate their perception of the world and offer them new way to explore and express themselves takes an artist! Again I am proud to say I know and have worked with you. Take care.
God Bless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

NYC AiE Roundtable