Amy Patel

James Clemens High School, Madison AL

Investigate theatre pedagogy and train in physical acting through a five-day Theatre Pedagogy Workshop in Berkshire, NY, then explore the inner workings of professional theatre in New York City to develop students' understanding of the body/mind link and better prepare them for possible careers and professional applications of theatre.

Where I've Been

  • Berkshire, MA
  • New York City, NY

My Fellowship in Images

I spent nine days in NYC, watching shows on- and off-Broadway to see legendary theatre and the latest trends. I took photos and video to share with students who may never get the chance to go to the Big Apple.
Twelve actors, dancers, and playwrights who are pursuing careers in professional theatre candidly shared their journeys, their mistakes, their aha moments and advice to my students. I am excited to share those videos in class.
A random encounter led me to meet a man who works backstage for Dear Evan Hansen, winner of the Best Musical Tony 2017. He took me backstage and explained the "magic" behind scene changes, backstage organization and his own professional journey.
One actor shared his process of preparing for auditions and took me through studios where so many actors, singers and dancers compete for roles.
Through the wonders of modern technology, I "brought" my students with me to Times Square! They had tons of questions about what shows I'd seen, who I'd met, and, of course, what food I'd eaten ;)
In the theatre pedagogy workshop, 12 of us teachers/directors/actors from across North America became students again. Each of us taught a lesson--I've got so many new ideas now!--and discussed challenges that are unique to teaching theatre.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

I went to NYC as an investigator, to uncover the secrets of working as a professional theatre artist--auditioning, getting an agent, renting an apartment, building a resume, marketing yourself, finding the perfect "survival job," and facing rejection again and again on the way to getting work in theatre. The professionals I met eagerly shared their "secrets" and revealed that every journey is different, difficult, rewarding, and for some of them, it's the only journey they ever want to take.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I am less intimidated by what I don't know. As a fellow teacher said, "I can't teach what I don't know, but I CAN try new things and learn WITH my students." I feel more connected to the city and less intimidated to ask "stupid" questions about the business. There is this great mystique (and even a stigma) to wanting to "be an actor," and I want to face it head on. What ELSE do we not know? I am eager to EXPLORE the unknown with my students and now have great connections to help us do just that.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

I admitted my own lack of knowledge. I never pursued acting professionally; I wanted to teach and direct. And while I've never regretted it, I felt a huge gap in my knowledge as a result. Some of the actors I interviewed work consistently, and others are struggling, but they all welcomed my questions and admitted that they didn't know much when they moved to NYC and that they are still learning. It takes years to learn the business; I just spent two weeks doing it. But I will keep asking!

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

My students now have a more energized, more confident, more knowledgeable, and more connected teacher. I have already implemented new activities that my colleagues shared at the theatre pedagogy workshop, and my vision for teaching about the professional theatre is much clearer. My students will learn not just from me, but from those who taught me. Everyone I interviewed said they would be excited to do online workshops with my students!

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

I met more than 25 actors, playwrights, dancers, technicians, and directors who shared new acting and teaching techniques, scripts and books to read, and ideas to explore. One director runs a community theatre that welcomes all ages, another works with immigrants who use theatre to find their social voice, another started a clown company, and yet another tackles Shakespeare regularly. My teaching TEAM has grown tremendously. We are already sharing resources and plan to meet online and in-person.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

In theatre, we have the opportunity to showcase student learning often with performances, but each student has unique skills and goals that may not always get featured. To showcase their individual learning and experience, my students are creating their own digital portfolios to include photos, video, resume, and writing. The digital portfolios will give them a place to share their learning with each other, their families, colleges and even employers or casting directors.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

Part of our theatre mission is to "build our community," so we often do outreach related to our shows. This year, as we perform Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, we are partnering with a local Rotary Club and Operation Warm to give new coats to children in our community. We are also involved with suicide prevention efforts, a cause that has deep significance, because a student in our program took his own life almost a year ago. We believe that theatre gives voice to the unspoken.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

First year teachers may lack experience but have lots of energy and optimism. The challenge is keeping it as we endure the rigors of teaching. My 1st year was 20 years ago, so I seek out knowledge and new ideas. I feel that 1st year excitement now because of my fellowship. I answered questions that had been gnawing at me for years. I never was, nor safe to say, never will be a professional actor. But my students might! It's exciting to be part of that and help them answer their questions, too.