I’m not good at everything, and that’s ok. There, I said it!
I know it sounds obvious but, as a teaching artist, I’ve found it’s hard for me to admit. I’ll happily admit the things I have trouble with outside of my artistic field: I can’t draw; I can’t cook a steak; and don’t even get me started on how bad I am at organized sports. However, when it comes to the many different ways I can be a teaching artist, I often try to be the expert in every possible residency. That is simply impossible.
That’s not to say my work isn’t strong, or that I don’t work ridiculously hard to plan for every type of residency that comes my way, or that my strengths and passions might change. But it is important to find, and know, my niche.
I was given the advice early on as an actress to take any gig that came my way until I could have the luxury of picking and choosing. I believe that was the right path to take when I started both of my careers. As a teaching artist there are so many possible paths, subjects, and populations to work with. It takes time to find your niche. How would I ever find out what I could and couldn’t do if I didn’t try different things? I never would have known that I love, and have a talent for, directing young people had I not said “yes” the first time I was asked. I never would have known how much I love pre-show workshops or improvisation had they not fallen into my lap.
Admitting I should say “no” is easier said than done. First, there is the financial issue. We, as teaching artists, live in a constant state of financial uncertainty. Then there is the ego issue. We WANT to be good at everything as a teaching artist (or as an actress for that matter). So, when we finally realize that there is an age or population or topic that other teaching artists are better with than we are, it’s a blow to our ego and it hurts. I have just now started to feel confident in saying “no,” even when a residency fits into my schedule. And I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t hurt.
For me, the greatest indicator of which jobs to say “no” to is in my planning time. The residencies I dread planning for, that seem to exhaust rather than excite me, are the ones I need to give a second look when the offer comes in.
My advice for early career teaching artists is to take every opportunity you can. Try and find your area of expertise, the style of teaching that truly brings out your light as a teaching artist and allows you to bring out the best in your students. Just don’t be afraid, one day down the line, to say “no” when you realize that’s what’s best for both you and your students.
Stacey Bone-Gleason is a professional teaching artist and actress. She teaches for numerous cultural organizations in Westchester and NYC including Arc Stages, TADA!, CAE, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Purchase College and BAM. She has even taught pre-show lessons internationally in Istanbul. She has helped to develop and perform TYA performances for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC and presented at arts education conferences such as the NY TIOS and Face to Face conferences. As an actress she has performed Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally in shows ranging from classical to contemporary and musical theater. Favorite credits include Unbroken Circle produced by Seth Rudetsky, Macbeth, Tempest and Midsummer (Tempest Ladies) in NYC and Istanbul, The Baristas (South Carolina Rep). Training: NYU/Stella Adler Studio of Acting (BFA) and Educational Theatre at CCNY (MS). www.staceybonegleason.com