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Teaching, Creative Endeavor, and Writing

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Dr. Rich Brown, a participant of the 2010 Faculty Research-Writing Series at WWU, agreed to speak with the Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment in this interview about what makes teaching, creative endeavor, and writing essential and synthesizing elements in his position. When we asked him his thoughts on finding success in his teaching, he described "change" as being at the heart of it:

"I know if I walk out of the classroom changed, and if my students
walk out of that classroom changed, or if an audience walks out of
a performance that I’ve done or helped direct or create changed,
then something has been accomplished
."

He goes on to describe that what has affected him most in his teaching and acting, is what inspires him to write professionally.

See also: Devising and Benefits for Students: A Commentary by Rich Brown

Page Contents

 

Integrating Teaching, Writing, and Creative Endeavor

Interview with Rich Brown, Ph.D.
Western Washington University

Question: How does your research via academic writing and creative endeavor affect your teaching?

Cognitively, I don’t think of any distinctions between those three areas. Every project that I end up saying yes to as the phone keeps ringing in some ways feeds back into my teaching, and what I learn through that application of the teaching then will lead to the next project, and I have been blessed with colleagues calling me to say, “Hey, would you be interested in this project that we want to take over to Edinburgh to the fringe festival?” and me saying, “Yes!” and then getting to do this amazing new training this summer with tectonic theatre project’s ‘moment work’. And I  was able to bring ‘moment work’ directly into my teaching, into my classroom, that will then feed right into my next creative endeavor project, into the creation of this new, original devised piece. So I just don’t think of them as separate. And who knows? Maybe then I’ll decide “Hey, I should write about this.” But I don’t go off looking for things to write about or things to research, they just kind of – one leads to another that leads to another.

And I think one example that kind of shows that is I had the great fortune to work with the faculty writing series here at Western, where I had a beautiful gift of having a three day residency where I could let go of all these projects and really sit down and just focus on what I wanted to say. So forcing myself into a situation to stop doing all of this creating, stop all of the creative endeavor and focus on the writing was invaluable. And too, having colleagues from other disciplines who I could use as sounding boards, because if my writing about theatre makes no sense to now my new friend Seth who is a sociologist, then I’ve got to rework my writing so that he can understand it. And just meeting all of these great colleagues across the university was a huge gift because as busy as we get in the theatre world we can also fall into our silos, so just an opportunity to meet people outside of this world reinforces that liberal arts nature of Western and also opens my mind to new things. Now, in conversations with these new colleagues, it’s making me think of new pieces to create for the theatre.

Question: How do you define success for your teaching?

Well, it’s difficult to sum up, of course. But I think that words “change” and “affecting” are at the heart of how I could define success. I know if I walk out of the classroom changed, and if my students walk out of that classroom changed, or if an audience walks out of a performance that I’ve done or helped direct or create changed, then something has been accomplished. And I don’t mean changed like, “now I’m a different political party” or anything like that. I just mean moved, and that movement can be as simple as just changing someone’s breath, or changing their body, again, changing their presence. If you brought them more into the moment, more into the world, and helped them understand something about themselves and about others, then I think that’s a total success. And that can happen in an acting classroom when students suddenly unlock the lower part of their spine and understand where they’ve been carrying their grief their whole life. It can happen when suddenly their voice goes into a new area that they haven’t experienced since maybe they were a young child. That has changed them. Or it can be the audience being changed in the theatre in that moment that suddenly arrests them when it confronts them with a truth about themselves that they haven’t opened to in a long time.

So I guess there are multiple definitions of success, but they all have to deal with that idea of change. And I include myself in that work as well. I’ve never understood, like when I played football in high school, the heavy coach off to the side yelling at us to run faster. There was no honesty, there was no truth there. So when I’m doing the movement exercises, I teach, I do, and then sometimes I ask them to teach as well. So I’m in the work with the students, because if I’m asking them to be physically active, I’m asking them to be emotionally open, I have to be willing to do that as well, to lead within, instead of lead from the outside.

Question: What from your teaching inspires you to write?

So if I decide that I would want to write about this, it would only be because I want to contribute something to the national dialogue in the theatre world about devising and about empowering young students to create their own work, or about specific techniques. Maybe I want to write about how I learned the moment work, I brought the moment work back, fed it to some undergrad students, and this was the work that we created out of it. How does that differ from a professional company who first created and codified that system of creation? But I don’t know. Only if something is leading me or pulling me to write about that would I write about it. If I think that it will help contribute to the national dialogue about what I hope theatre can become in the world, then I’ll write about it.

 

Resources

 

 About the Author

Rich Brown, Ph.D.Associate Professor RICH BROWN earned his Ph.D. in Theatre with an emphasis in acting, directing and devising from the University of Oregon. After training with master teachers Stephen Wangh and Mary Overlie at NYU Tisch's Experimental Theatre Wing, Rich landed at Western Washington University where he currently teaches Grotowski inspired psychophysical acting, Suzuki, Viewpoints, and classes in devising. He has published in Theatre Topics, Theatre Journal, and The Western States Theatre Review; presented at Association of Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conferences in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, and Washington DC. Rich studied with Anne Bogart’s SITI Company’s summer intensive training in Saratoga Springs, New York and at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California. Recent directing credits include: Dog Sees God, The Lesson, The Mistakes Madeline Made, the WWU Theatre Ambassadors Tour, and the devised works cheat, US, and Commedia in the Parks. Recently Rich has led Viewpoint Intensives for Teatrul Fara Frontiere at the National Theatre of Romania in Bucharest and the Portland, Oregon devising company hand2mouth. Recently, Rich performed in Poison the Well in the Vancouver Fringe Festival, Into the Woods at the Mt. Baker Theatre and The American Family at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which he also co-directed), and Circle Mirror Transformation at Idaho Repertory Theatre.  Last spring the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival honored him with the National Award for Outstanding Lead Deviser/Director of a Devised Work for 2012.

 

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