“Relationships before issues,” is the phrase I use to begin every Maestro Theatre training workshop. I stole that phrase from a Catholic priest who began my summer high school church camps this way. Most people are naturally uncomfortable with ice braking, get to know one another, team building activities. It is scary to to expose yourself and possible set yourself up for rejection or to set yourself up for a negative evaluation regarding your social interaction skills. Unfortunately, this natural fear of social interaction is now more severe with current generations being raised with cell phones as their best friend. And it’s not limited to the young. Through Maestro Theatre workshops I have observed teachers who are just as lonely as young people. I meet teachers hungry for friends, conversation, and acceptance.
Many returning teachers arrive and hug me in thanksgiving, “I started crying the minute I drove onto the Eastwood Hill property,” I recall a teacher saying, “It’s like I’m home.” Home is where a family gathers. I, as the Maestro director, and we, as teachers, must work harder than ever to create community. New teachers are understandably uncomfortable when they arrive at to Eastwood Hill and see returning teachers, scream, hug, jump into familiar and energetic conversations. “Well it’s because of the friendships that were developed here,” a teacher explains to a new comer. Once the workshop begins and I force conversation, force face to face interaction with a stranger, force activities that encourage seeing a stranger as a person with the same issues or experiences we all possess, the magic of community begins.
All of a sudden the living room space at Eastwood Hill, get louder, all of a sudden I have to interrupt talk as new relationship are being formed. All of a sudden the new teacher is off Facebook or not texting because they are visiting with a hopeful new friend. Although some of these forced friends are directed, “I’ll be your friend right now because Rick makes us do this, we soon discover that our commonality creates a bond. You are attending a Maestro workshop for the same reason everyone else is, you have the same interest in theatre, art, students, improving. You discover that you are talking to person who understands the challenges of teaching, the inequity of finances, the exhaustion of long days plus rehearsal, the struggle to balance work and home life. People who share your same interest and experiences become your life long bonds.
I love when 20 new teachers at a Maestro workshop stay up until 3:00 in the morning because they are with people who speak their own language and can’t stop talking. I love when the kitchen island is littered with snacks and beverages as new friends congregate and laugh, share successes AND FLAWS. In three days, exhausted educators, who were feeling defeated are now energized and optimistic. The face to face relationships with other caring friends are powerful drivers of engaged learning. Without these relationships it is easy to give up and quit.
What are you providing for your students to create community? What are you designing for yourself? Do you ever put down your cell phone to be more present in a room? Do you have rules for yourself, and students about how you use technology in a social situation? So create an orientation for your classes and your acting companies? Is your department a home?
Wonderful relationships have developed under the Eastwood Hill roof. Many tears been shared and accepted within these walls. Eastwood Hill has heard many stories of success, many confessions of failure and self-doubt, many stories which made us laugh. As theatre directors we coach relationships onstage; let’s take that connection off stage and help create a healthier community. Have a holy holiday season.