Monday, April 19, 2021

5 Things I Learned In My First Year of Grad School: CCNY Educational Theatre Program

Cara Kramer


In June 2020, I found that I was being laid off from my job due to COVID-19. For the first time in a few years, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do; I had finally established myself at my job and in my community, made new friends, and fully (okay, mostly) decorated my first apartment. Everything had been stable, and then this pandemic that none of us saw coming threw a wrench in everything I had been working so hard for.

I panicked. If you know me, that is not the least bit surprising. I am always the woman with the plan, the one that others count on to remind them what time rehearsal is and the one who remembers everybody’s birthdays. Suddenly, I felt like I was right out of undergrad again, that I had to start over. So then I thought...why not actually start over?


I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Performance and Technical Theatre and have always loved school. I love to learn and I love the structure that school provides me. I had been thinking about attending graduate school ever since I graduated from college in 2016, but my thoughts bounced all over the place - first I was stuck on acting, then considered stage management, then theatre studies, then thought that a general theatre masters degree might be the right choice. I had interned and worked in educational settings before, but never considered dedicating my work to it. It was at the very job that I was being laid off from, however, where I was working in a box office, that I realized that perhaps education was where I was headed all along. I often assisted the education department with their planning and was beginning to think about future positions I might apply for as time went on. I started looking into graduate programs in the tri-state area without much direction, but then somebody mentioned that the Educational Theatre Program at CCNY sounded like a great fit for me. I explored the information, decided that the time was right, and applied for non-matriculated status for Fall 2020.


Nearly a full academic year later, I can confidently say that joining this cohort is one of the best decisions I have made in my recent past. During a time of isolation and hardship, I have been able to meet new people, keep my artistry alive, and prepare for a future that will need arts education more than ever. So, if you have been looking for a reason to take the plunge, this might be your sign. And if you aren’t completely convinced, here’s a list of things I have learned in my first year that change the way I think as an artist and as an educator.


  1. Our careers are not linear.

Take a peek into any one of our classes and you will find people in completely different stages of their lives and careers. Some have moved on directly from undergrad, some have been in the workforce for a few years, some have children of their own who are taking online classes right beside them. Our jobs range from teachers to lawyers to actors to directors to media specialists. We all had different incidents of inspirations that led us to this program at this time, but not one of them has been formulaic in nature, and they will not be in the future. As artists, we chase jobs that make us feel something, both for ourselves and for others. As educators, we jump through hoops to find the best way to work with children, regardless of the decade and social circumstances. There is no “right way” to build your education and your career - your path is different from everybody else’s and there is no formula for success. Your jobs will change, your priorities in life will change, but your passion and what drives you is what is the true constant. It is difficult to push past the idea of where you are “supposed to be” (trust me, I’m a planner, remember?), but it is an important concept to keep in mind.



  1. Your artistry inspires and informs your teaching style.

One of the most fascinating parts of this program for me has been to see everybody         else’s artistry in action. As I mentioned, we all took different paths to get here, and it’s amazing to see where others have been and what drives them. In my cohort alone we have musical theatre actors, classical actors, Shakespearean actors, directors, dramaturgs, puppeteers, devisors, stage managers, technicians, video editors, poets… Every project gives us a unique opportunity to see education through each other’s eyes and not only learn about what makes our classmates tick, but let their passions and talents inform our own teaching practices. We share lesson plans and ideas, support each others’ projects, and learn as much from each other as we do from our professors. I come from a musical theatre background, so I tend to view assignments through that lens and I am able to come up with ideas for activities and workshops based on what I love and how I communicate; by sharing that with others, they now have another tool to add to their arsenal. For some reason, I think I had the idea that there were only a few ways to be a “good teacher” and there were rules that had to be specifically followed, but students relate to teachers who are passionate about their craft and can blend that in with their teaching practice.


  1. Artists and educators have the power and opportunity to act as advocates for their communities.

This may seem obvious because of the times we live in, but artists and educators truly have more power than most think. As artists, we engage with our community on a regular basis and not only know of issues in those communities, but in arts organizations as well. As educators, we engage with students on a regular basis and not only know of issues those students are facing, but how the issues the system is tackling as well. Because we are in “the room where it happens,” so to speak, (sorry!), we have first hand knowledge of changes that need to happen and justice that needs to be served. By using our voices and pooling our resources, we can make chances not only in our schools and other educational programs, but in the arts industry as a whole. It is our responsibility to keep growing the field and to stand up for what is best for our students.




  1. None of us know everything...and that’s okay.

You may think you understand disability, but you really have no idea until you take an Inclusive Practices in the Arts course. You may think you understand theatre history, but you really have no idea until you take a Theatre History class that focuses on Eastern theatre. You may think you understand lesson planning...okay, I absolutely did not understand lesson planning. My point is that nobody is perfect, and nobody enters any school or workplace knowing every single detail of every concept they are supposed to know and fully comprehend. One of things I most enjoy is class discussions where we are able to share our personal connections to a topic at hand. Because we all come from different backgrounds, every person in the program has a different reaction to or different understanding of any given topic. I have learned so much from my classmates that I never would have learned from a book, or even from a class lecture or powerpoint presentation. Knowing that there are other people there to support you, whether you know something or not, whether you make a mistake or not, is not only comforting but a wonderful gift. It is okay to admit that you don’t know something or that you were wrong about something because that shows maturity and growth, and I think that is a fantastic lesson to pass on to our students.


  1. Community can be built anywhere, even through a computer screen.

I must admit, attending any type of theatre school online is weird. We are the type of people who thrive on gatherings, being close to each other, and creating in a physical space. It feels so strange to study such a community-driven art form on our own couches in our own houses, and from all over the country as we jump between COVID-safe residences. I’m not going to lie, it has been hard to get to know people - we have all mentioned multiple times how we would probably be closer by now if we were in-person because we would walk to class and the subway together, grab coffee or a meal together, or work on projects in person. Still, I’m happy that our cohort has been able to learn more about each other through the occasional off-topic class discussion, in breakout rooms after we have completed an assignment, through group projects, and from interactions online. I have also been so impressed by our creativity in presenting projects and creating new work online - it feels different, of course, but we have learned new skills that the program never even intended, and I think that has made us better educators. We really have made the best of a tough situation and have proved that you might be able to take the artist/educators out of the theater, but you can’t take the theatre out of the artist/educators.


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