Emerson NEXTChat: Arts Education Matters

Arts Education Matters: A Conversation with Jen Lewis, Second Year Graduate Student, Theatre Education

On Friday, October 27, 2017, the state of MA celebrated what is known as Arts Matter Day. Started by MassCreative, the creative communities of actors, writers, visual artists, arts administrators, and educators joined forces to share their stories about why the arts matter to them via social media.

As artists, we’re good at asking questions. It’s actually imperative because within those questions, stories unfold, characters are developed, and we realize that within the chaos of working on a project, we can embrace the purpose of the work.  We uphold this purpose to remind the world about why the arts is important, not only as storytellers but as educators.

Earlier this semester I had the opportunity to sit down with Jen Alison Lewis, who is currently enrolled in Emerson’s Theatre Education Program. Known as a strong leader for new professionals in the theatre community of MA, I wanted to discuss the value of not only the program but in Jen’s approach to her work for career development and future goals.

Why theatre education?

Between rehearsals, auditions and as Jen referred to (the age-old goal for theatre-makers) as “getting butts in seats”, she was drawn to fulfilling work in theatre that provided more of a service component to young minds.  Her calling to the work is about going “towards more service and having faith that theatre can do that.” The service is not just exposing students to the arts, but that the craft helps students to “learn to listen to themselves.” At a time in America where there is a great deal of division re: politics, and funding for the arts, arts communities are faced with more advocacy work and reminding institutions about the value of an arts education. Time and again amongst our creative circles we know how much theatre encourages empathy, active listening, and honoring the stories we all bring.

How would you describe Emerson’s Theatre Ed community and program?

“Rigorous does not have to mean reading 100 pages. The challenge is to really commit to an activity and reflect on it honestly”. As both the student and the teacher, Jen expanded on the value of being in both camps, and that one of her favorite courses is with Craig Mathers for scene study. With the goal of sharing her passion for theatre with students, the theatre ed program places students front and center in ways that challenge their commitment to their work and professional development.

What are some ways to effectively advocate for keeping theatre programs in schools? Jen laid out a few things about ways to be a consistent voice for arts education:

  1. Bring the parents in. Let them see the rehearsal process and the decisions that are made on the structure and focus of a theatre program. Encourage them to be an integral part of the creative process.
  2. Bring in alumni voices.  Invite them to share with the parents, the administration and current students about the role that theatre education played in their lives.
  3. Have diverse theatre content. Use theatre as a way to educate students about culture and ethnicity and different forms of storytelling to prepare them for the world.

Jen Lewis works to connect and challenge our world with honest, playful theatre. An actor, director, teacher, coach, and playwright, Jen is a second-year student in the Masters program in Theatre Education/Theatre and Community at Emerson. She performs historic plays about social justice issues as a company member of Theatre Espresso, has directed at the Winsor School and both Newton North and South High Schools, and teaches at Wheelock Family Theatre and in various public schools. She is also the proud mother of two amazing kids. Favorite roles include Rosalinde in As You Like It which she produced as Merely Players; Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dogberry in Much Ado (It’s a Fiasco); Legally Dead (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre); Kate in Taming of the Shrew; Living Out (Lyric Stage); and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Stickball). Proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and StageSource.

Theatre Ed students: What’s up next for you? Along your path to career success, stop by career services to plan out some goals, strengthen your community and make your mark!

By Jessica Chance
Jessica Chance Assistant Director, Liaison to Alumni and Graduate Students Jessica Chance