While 2020 has brought us seemingly endless challenges, some of the most intriguing to me have been within the field of education. As a former teacher and long-time soap-boxer of all things education-related, watching my former colleagues pivot on a dime to meet the monumental needs of the day has been fascinating. I’ve watched it all like a suspenseful movie, biting my nails and perspiring on behalf of others.
But, just as I remind myself “it’s just a movie” when it is in fact a movie, I’ve reminded myself that these are teachers, and if anyone can make it work on a sticky note budget, it’s them.
Today’s Creative People interview takes a peek into the world of education from a different point of view: from the perspective of a student. Emma Becker is a theatre major at The University of Rhode Island. When the pandemic hit during her senior year, she pivoted online with everyone else. She speaks to the challenges she faced as a performing artist, and how she has tried to see those challenges as opportunities.
I hope you enjoy.
Art, particularly in terms of performance, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From learning to weave and draw with my mother and learning the basics of woodworking with my dad, creativity has been a core part of my young life. I started taking ballet classes at a young age and continued rigorously dancing through high school before making the transition to theatre. I found my love for acting when I participated in a Shakespeare summer camp at age eleven and I’ve been hooked on theatre ever since.
Pre-COVID-19 I came to college with the intent of studying theatre with the goal of pursuing a career as an educator. I have always believed that performance art should have a role in the general education classroom, particularly at a young age, because of its ability to foster creativity, teamwork, self-expression, and confidence.
In terms of my work at URI and beyond, I was busy. I was fortunate to be cast in various shows, got the opportunity to try my hand at puppetry, dance, and worked as a teaching assistant. I was always working to figure out how to make the most of every experience that came my way. Right before classes shifted online, I was applying for summer internships and in rehearsals.
Once my school shifted to an online platform, my creative work changed in many ways. I got the opportunity to learn new skills related to film and voice over work. One of my favorite assignments was to record a children’s book in as many voices as possible. However, the biggest shift in my work has been serving as the Production Stage Manager on “Volume Up”, a series of five student-directed radio plays produced by the URI Theatre Department. I had never worked as a stage manager before, but when the opportunity presented itself I decided to go for it and take advantage of a new experience.
My role in this show is to support the five directors throughout their rehearsal process and during recording. What has been particularly challenging is the opportunity to engage with an audio-only format and to be working on a show during COVID. There were so many uncertainties, however it is great to be able to work on art in some form. I never expected to work on radio plays, let alone as a manager.
Even though things are different than I expected, I feel like I have learned so much more about myself and my creative work. I’m continuing to act and pursue my passion of education while working in new aspects of my industry. Working as a Stage Manager has taught me to be flexible, resilient, and on task, which are all skills that can transfer into other aspects of my creative work. Plus I found I really enjoy management!
In terms of theatre and its relationship to COVID-19, one of my biggest challenges is to figure out what comes next. Theatre in its traditional sense is not happening right now due to safety precautions. This is scary to me and so many others in this industry because we don’t know when we will be able to be onstage again, nor do we know what our industry will even look like. I think a lesson I have been learning is to take things as they come and be flexible. As my dad would say to me on the phone, “You have to be in flux, Becker.” Although times are challenging and uncertain, I aim to take any opportunity to be creative and engage with the work I love. Every experience is a learning opportunity and I think especially now I am learning to be more understanding and compassionate to those around me.
Another challenge I’ve been struggling with as a young artist is developing my confidence. It’s hard some days to separate myself from my work and understand that the critiques I’m receiving aren’t meant to be personal but rather to help me grow and improve my craft. I’m still working to understand what it means to take ownership of my work and be proud of what I’ve had the opportunity to do.
I can’t imagine a life without creativity. It’s all around us whether we are consciously aware of it or not. In my day-to-day life I find creativity and inspiration in the books I read, the plants in my yard, my morning yoga, and the people around me. Now more than ever I am amazed by my peers and the way we’re all using our creativity to remain engaged in the world during such an uncertain time. For me, personal creativity grows the more I engage with and listen to the world around me.
Thank you, Emma, for sharing your perspective. Your positive attitude and outlook will no doubt serve you well in the years to come.
You can follow Emma on Instagram at @embecksri.