Backstage: What’s the value of a theater arts education?

Southern Oregon University Professor Eric Levin has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship. Levin will teach for the 2017-18 academic year at the University of Ireland in Galway and participate in the University’s International Eugene O’Neill Conference. I met with Levin in his office on the SOU Campus.

EH: Tell me about your Fulbright project.

EL: The purpose of the Fulbright is to increase academic interaction internationally and to exchange cultural views. We’re trying to create relationships with schools in Europe. I’m hoping to travel in Britain and the Continent to sample some of their theater techniques. I’m going to explore the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and I want to meet with the Accademia dell’Arte School in Italy. There are lots of possibilities; I just have to lay groundwork for all of them.

Hopefully we’ll be able to bring people from Europe to teach and students to learn. At the same time, our students will have opportunities to get support from European colleges — professional internships — where they can go overseas and study.EH: What is the value of a theater arts education?

EL: When you study theater and become involved in theater as an art, the skills that you learn — collaboration, leadership, flexibility, problem-solving — all these are things that you can use anywhere in your life.

The main skills we teach are what the rest of the world has ignored. Business has become about making money. The service you give has seemed to decrease in value as opposed to the ability to make money.

We’re losing a lot of the manual labor jobs (where there’s a lot of repetition) and people need to think. They need to have critical skills, and the arts teach that — because you’re always making choices. And more than that: In theater, you’re creating an entire world every time you go into production. The interaction of the various elements of theater creates that world for the audience. And so, you have to be very particular about the choices you make, and have reasoning behind all of them. The whole idea of the egotistical selfish artist is a myth, because nobody wants to work with those kinds of people.

We meet a lot and solve problems, and the problems we solve are not personal. It’s about people getting together and sharing a vision for a particular project. There’s a huge amount that you have to learn before you can do that successfully.

It’s a unique experience to learn any kind of collaborative art. And in production, our students learn about electricity, painting, research, performance — and they get in touch with themselves to bring themselves out.

The hardest thing in the world for an actor to do is to allow one’s own vulnerabilities out on stage. And that’s a huge advantage as a human being, to be able to put yourself forth. As a society we are trained to be internal, to not show our feelings, and to be almost manipulative.

This is a place where people learn to tap into their inner feelings and their inner resources, bring them out, and use them to an advantage, which is also manipulative. But it’s hard to do: It’s an honest way of self-examination. The examination of people around you and being able to separate one’s own perspective from everybody else’s, those are powerful tools in this world.

At this university, I would put our student employment rate up with anywhere else on campus — with our students getting meaningful jobs in professional theater.


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Ashland is the place for Theatre

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