Official social kick off in Ireland

This evening marked the official social kick off of the Community-Engaged Theatre program in Ireland. We had a reception pulled together by the graduate assistant on the course, Simone Burns, and we were joined by some of the Irish/UK teaching staff and guests: Joanna Parkes, Jenny Macdonald, Orla Hasson, Declan Gorman, and Chrissie Poulter. It was a great evening, complete with a well-traveled story cloak, food, and fellowship.

As all days have been thus far, this Sunday was not a day of rest but rather packed with errands in the morning and a long planning meeting in the afternoon. In between I managed a catch up lunch with Joanna Parkes, a tutor on the course, and actually the longest standing member of the Irish teaching team. Joanna has been working on the course since 2003 when it was located in Cork, and she represents a consistency and institutional memory over all of these years. She successfully mentors students while also helping to keep the course grounded in current pedagogical practices and unrolling the first major group project. I also find her sense of humor and her calm way of managing every situation a huge asset as the director of the course.

At the planning meeting I had the chance to meet our newest tutor, Orla Hasson. Orla comes on board highly recommended by the rest of the teaching staff, and her work in community-engaged theatre throughout the world continues to add layers of additional expertise to the experience for all of us. I’m always so humbled by the work of my Irish colleagues, and I can’t wait for more conversations with Orla about applied theatre and her community experiences.

Declan Gorman is another long-standing veteran of the course, and he arrived to the meeting today with his usual thoughtful questions and comments. As we planned the first two days of work, Declan and Jenny both reminded us about the notion of community and how we need to think about the NYU student group as a developing community within this particular context. Declan’s thoughts about how to move forward over the next two days helped us to hammer out a plan that really takes this notion of community into account, and I’m excited that it will be at the forefront of our course work throughout these three weeks. Orla will start us off on Monday morning with an exploration of what that word “community” even means, and the conversation will go from there. I’m also thrilled that we will see Declan’s newest artistic work, The Dubliners Dilemma, a one-man show that adapts James Joyce’s novel for the stage. Declan returns to acting after a 20-year hiatus, and that in and of itself is inspiring to me. I can’t wait to see his show!

This notion of community needs to remain at the forefront of the course work, as community-engaged theatre requires us to understand ourselves in relationship to the communities in which we work. How are we the insider or the outside, and how does that inform the way that we facilitate? How does membership in a community actually evolve? Is membership ascribed to an individual? Is an individual born into a community? How does an individual somehow place herself or himself into a community? Does that constitute membership? Is membership in a community about physical location? Psychic location? Both? How do philosophies of essentialist and constructivist identity development contribute to this dialogue? The quest for answers begins on Monday morning and lasts for three weeks. We’ll see what we can discover.

Below see some pictures from this evening’s reception, as my students met in their smaller tutor groups for the first time.

Long live Eddie and Peanut Butter...