Last Saturday I attended a production of Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker at The Chapin School on Manhattan's Upper East Side. I worked with students at this private, all-girls school last year around this time, when my former student and now colleague Sarah Bellantoni asked me to work with her to create an ethnodrama with her students. The experience of making that play was one of the highlights of 2015 for me, so I was excited to see this year's production.
Through my work with Sarah last year, I learned just how great a teacher and director she has become. As I've said before, I love to learn from my former students, as it reinforces the idea that the transfer of knowledge can never be a one-way street. Sarah exhibited great generosity of spirit throughout our collaboration, patiently helping me to remember the nuances required when working with high school students, particularly young women. And collaborating at a high school where the entire drama department shares such high standards for their artistic and pedagogical work rejuvenated my own excitement about teaching.
As I sat in the audience last Saturday and experienced Sarah's production, I was amazed at the skill of these young actresses after less than 20 rehearsals. They navigated various accents with relative ease, and most of them played across gender, which they are accustomed to, but which for me illustrated a dexterity that some professional actors would struggle to find. And they understood the stakes of the play and played those stakes with full commitment. I walked out of the theatre feeling #grateful for the timeliness of Sarah's choice to direct this play. I needed to see this play right now, at a moment when so much noise keeps me from hearing any bit of truth. Because of Sarah's specific and thoughtful direction, I got some much needed truth last Saturday afternoon.
I sat with Sarah over dinner this past week, and we talked about her production and her students and her survival stories, as there are always survival stories whenever artists do something challenging and brave. Listening to Sarah talk about the accomplishments of each of her students illustrated how connected and committed she is as an artist and teacher, and her students and colleagues reap the benefits as a result.
For teaching me a thing or two (or ten!) about what it means to be an artist and a teacher, for having an amazing sense of humor and some of the best one-liners I've ever heard, and for showing endless amounts of compassion while still facilitating greatness in her students, Sarah Bellantoni is the artist I admire for this week.