I knew from the very start that theater would be an integral part of my life. Growing up among 10 brothers and sisters, a “typical” Italian family as far as I was concerned, it was that environment that instilled a love of music and the arts; in fact, after Sunday dinner, we would perform a talent show replete with lip syncs to Lou Monte’s Yakkity Yak, an interview stint with our Doberman pincer, Rex dressed in gym shorts, my ballet rendition, and a trio of sisters singing to The Fleetwoods’ Come Softly. Thus began my journey to evolve as an artist and educator, with my mantra echoing the Spice Girls’ Wannabe lyrics:
You know what I want, what I really, really want….
I wanted to teach at the college level. That meant pursuing a Ph.D. degree at New York University’s Program in Educational Theater. This was a major turning point for me as an artist and educator. As an English teacher I felt that writing should be fun and not some onerous task; in addition, I wanted to close the Troupe season with plays written by young playwrights. Professor Lowell Swortzell, my advisor, recommended I contact Young Playwrights Inc. Founded by Stephen Sondheim in 1981 as the only professional theater devoted solely to the work of writers aged 18 or younger, Young Playwrights Inc. introduces young people to the theater and encourages their self-expression through the art of playwriting. One of their mission statements is to promote the arts in basic education by facilitating the integration of playwriting into the curriculum. After attending one of their Festivals, I knew that this would be the study of my doctoral research: A History of the Young Playwrights Festival: the first decade (1981 – 1991). The research provided a descriptive overview of the first ten years, its Festival, workshops, teacher training institutes, and staged reading programs. In a 1988 study by Lawrence O’Farrell Teaching the Playwrights Art professional playwrights recommended how playwriting should effectively be taught and how the process of teaching playwriting could be evaluated. These recommendations describe an ideal approach to the teaching of playwriting to determine the effectiveness of the process established by Young Playwrights Inc. to introduce young people to the playwright’s art and to give insight into how their programs help to achieve its stated mission, to nurture the future of American theatre. I earned my Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2001.
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the college level as an adjunct professor. At Nassau Community College I was assigned the Composition course that had a diverse population ranging from anxious women returning to the workforce to young people who partied too much at school and needed to get their lives back on track. Utilizing the Young Playwrights Inc. Write A Play! Curriculum Guide as a resource, I was able to allay many of their fears about writing as well as challenge those students whose skills were proficient. I used these same resources to supervise student teachers at NYU’s Program in Educational Theater and at the Department of Theatre at CUNY/Brooklyn College’s Educational Theater Initiative as part of their Drama Across the Curriculum course. I attended national conferences presenting workshops and networking across the fields of arts education.
I decided to move forward and pursue work with arts-in-education organizations to further my mission to promote educational theater practices among teachers, students, and the community. (See ‘Professional Development’ page).