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Applied Theatre Conference Offers Roadmap to Racial Justice and Diversity
The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) MA in applied theatre (MAAT) program hosted its 7th annual Applied Theatre & Racial Justice conference in Spring 2022. The theme for this year’s conference was Imagining Futures Beyond Silos, Boundaries, Borders: Artists as Cultural Workers in Advancing Intersectional Racial Equity.
The virtual three-session series opened during Black History Month with the panel When Walls Become Bridges: Reflections on Black Women in Education Who Have Applied Theatre Cause the Schoolin' Ain't Enuf. In March, the program hosted Brother to Brother: Black, Indigenous, and Men of Color Talk Arts, Education, and Activism. The final segment, Disidentifications and Self-Determination: Transgressing and Resisting Binaries and Conformity, was held in April.
MAAT faculty member Ah-Keisha McCans moderated When Walls Become Bridges: Reflections on Black Women in Education Who Have Applied Theatre Cause the Schoolin' Ain't Enuf. The panelists included five graduates of the MAAT program: Dorcas Davis ('14), Professor Ariyan Johnson ('14), Dr. Alexis Jemal ('21), Shamilia McBean Tocruray ('13), and MAAT Assistant Director Adeola Adegbola-White ('15). These dynamic applied theatre practitioners discussed their missions, art, and perspectives as Black women who engage communities, build bridges, and dismantle borders in education while following in the tradition of Black women who have also used their art and voices as a tool for social justice.
Dr. Alexis Jemal, an assistant professor at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work, shared her experience while she was a student in the MAAT program. “You know, theater is powerful. I had so much fun doing it and so much joy. Sometimes I think joy is missing from education. So, there was so much that I got from this program that was healing for me.” Dr. Jemal then explained how she went on to use the principles from MAAT in her work as a therapist. “Something that we use in therapy is narrative practice… by creating more helpful and healthy narratives the client begins to identify their transformative potential, and to understand that change is possible.”
The next panel discussion, Brother to Brother: Black, Indigenous, and Men of Color Talk Arts, Education, and Activism, was moderated by Dr. H. “Herukhuti” Sharif Williams, a member of the MAAT faculty. The panel included MAAT alumni Joseph Webb (’20), Helio A. Sepulveda Z. (’20), and S. Brian Jones (’18), who later served as emcee at the CUNY SPS 2022 Commencement ceremony.
The panelists provided keen insights as applied theatre professionals who are men of color creating space for more diversity in theatre. Jones shared his strategy as the new assistant dean for diversity and equity in the arts at Pace University. “We will welcome previously under-represented people so that they can authentically develop their voices as writers and as practitioners with people who believe in the strength of their vision and voice as Latinx, African Americans, LGBTQ+, disabled people, and people with any intersections of identities.” Jones further explained, “They will find the value in their voice and we will help find them the funding that will continue to elevate that voice.”
GLSEN Executive Director and MAAT former faculty member Melanie Willingham-Jaggers ('12) facilitated the final segment, Disidentifications and Self-Determination: Transgressing and Resisting Binaries and Conformity. For this discussion, current MAAT students and alum gathered to address life outside the binary box. Panelists included: Tamelan Chauvet ('22), Dee Hughes ('16), Tabatha (Tab) R. Lopez ('21), and MAAT Program Assistant Brynn Asha Walker ('23).
The panelists discussed the beauty, the confusion, and the liminality of living outside the gender binary. Towards the closing of the dialogue, Willingham-Jaggers shared her inspiring overview. “I think that when you are able to find the fullness of yourself, it is beautiful. And I think that God is like all pronouns offered with respect.”
About the Master of Arts in Applied Theatre
The MA in applied theatre degree program, the first program of its kind in the United States, uses theatre as a medium for education, community development, and the pursuit of social justice. The goal of the program is to educate scholar practitioners to become future leaders in the field of applied theatre. Applied Theatre involves the use of theatre and drama in a wide variety of nontraditional contexts and venues, such as in teaching, the justice system, health care, the political arena, community development, museums, and social service agencies.
About the CUNY School of Professional Studies
As New York’s leader in online education since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor’s and master’s degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University’s only undergraduate all-transfer college. With 24 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor’s degree, progress from an associate’s degree, earn a master’s degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, and noted for its soaring growth and enrollment, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School’s renowned and affordable online programs—which offer in-state tuition to all students regardless of where they live—ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.
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