After a wonderful year of work with BOLLI’s Scene-iors and CAST groups, I decided it was time to find out what else might be happening in theatre in other lifelong learning programs. That search sent me to the website of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education where I found that the association’s national conference was coming up, and, this year, it was to be held at the Boston Park Plaza (the site, incidentally, of the first AATE conference I attended in 1996). I signed up and headed into the city for some artistic rejuvenation.
And it was wonderful. There were some familiar faces in the crowd, and catching up with these creative beings was terrific. But what was truly exhilarating was the energy, commitment, and social consciousness evident in the generation of young drama teachers now moving into positions of prominence in our field.
One of those young teachers and I began to chat during a quiet moment before our breakout session, “Our Students, Their Stories,” was to begin. We soon discovered that we had NYC independent school teaching in common, but when she craned to look at my name tag, we discovered an even more exciting connection. “BOLLI?” she exclaimed. “My grandparents love BOLLI!”
This young teacher’s grandparents are Sheila and Irving Lesnick who have been BOLLI members for about ten years. “Actually, we like everything about BOLLI,” Sheila enthuses. She talks about the variety of courses she and Irving have taken, saying that “almost all of them have been excellent. The course leaders have been great, and the course material most rewarding.” They take advantage of many of the opportunities Brandeis has to offer–concerts, lectures, and films.
Sheila and Irving are justifiably proud of their lovely granddaughter whom I found to be quite a bright and charming young woman. Emily recently received her master’s degree from NYU’s prestigious Steinhardt program in Educational Theatre. She teaches drama at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx , coaching a student improv group which has performed in a variety of venues around the city. She is particularly enthusiastic about her work with a group of 10th graders who devised an original theatre piece around the theme of belonging. It is this kind of devising that seems to be one of the most rewarding aspects of her work.
“Until the end of college, I thought my passion for theatre was an indulgence and a side hobby and that I should pursue my more ‘serious’ interests of social justice education,” Emily says. “But theatre had been influential in the awakening of my activist interests, and I realized I didn’t have to separate them, that theatre could be the medium through which I strive towards justice in education. I’m lucky that my family has been supportive of my passions and vocation, and they ask really good questions that help me clarify my goals.”
Emily’s focus on theatre as a medium for social justice and activism led her and her partner Jamila Humphrie to embark on their How We G.L.O.W. (Gay, Lesbian, Or Whatever) project. Inspired by Moises Kaufman’s Laramie Project as well as the work of Anna Deavere Smith, they interviewed twenty LGBTQ+ young people about “how they understand their identities, where they find spaces of support, and what they perceive to be the biggest issues they face in their communities. What emerged from these interviews was a script full of engaging, personalized data that reminds us of the urgent need to support LGBTQ+ young people in our social institutions.” Last year, How We G.L.O.W. toured to ten schools and community spaces and will continue to travel this fall. Emily and her partner led a breakout session on the project at the conference.
Sheila and Irving certainly have reason to be proud of this remarkable young woman who is already well on her way to a prestigious career in arts education–and, somehow, I suspect that they may well have helped to inspire her along the way.