At the annual Theatre Department convocation, Chair Scott Edmiston asked students to take responsibility, give respect, and be rebellious. Here is a transcript of his remarks:
Welcome to all of our new students, and welcome back to our returning community. I hope you had a wonderful summer. I spent my summer with people I love and in places I love – thinking about you. For example, sitting on the beach in Provincetown on Cape Cod, a place I love, reading a new biography of Eugene O’Neill, a playwright I love. Some of you have seen the life-sized cut out of him in my office, and I’ll be teaching a course about him the spring. He was my first creative hero in the theatre.
In July 1916, exactly 100 years before I was in Provincetown, O’Neill and a group of twentysomething artists and bohemians, wild men and women, mad poets and socialists formed The Provincetown Players. And that scrappy little theatre company, those ambitious young theatre artists, changed the course of theatre history that led to the creation of American drama.
As I read about them, rediscovering their stories, walking past the places they lived and the wharfs and barrooms where their dreams took shape, I thought about you – here at the dawn of another century – and my expectations that you are about to revolutionize theatre again.
And I thought about what you will need to do that.
There are, of course, the multitude of skills and knowledge we offer you every day in classes. Yet there is something more, a kind of subtext if you will, the underlying principles of being a theatre artist. And I’m going to call them the three Rs. No, not readin’ writin’, and rithmatic. But responsibility, respect, and rebellion.
As theatre artists, we take responsibility – for ourselves, for our choices, for our work, and for our art. We show up.
Isn’t that an interesting phrase? Show up. We often refer to a production as the show – preshow…post-show. And when we show up, we elevate the production and one another. We lift the theatre through the integrity of our actions.
We show up for every class and we show up on time.
We show up for every rehearsal ready to work, and we show up 10 minutes early.
We show up for half hour, crew call, and fittings.
We show up for our scene partners; we show up with a complete commitment of mind, body and spirit; and with a generosity of the heart.
We show up for the hard moments where great learning and great art actually happens.
We show up unafraid, determined, focused, and prepared.
We show up for others. We show up to support a friend’s work. It doesn’t matter if I actually want to see that play — or if I liked it. If someone I care about is making theatre, I show up for them.
We show up for our family – both the biological one and the logical one. We show up for broken hearts. We show up in the hospital or at the funeral or to help get you through that really bad day.
We show up at protests, and we show up on election day.
We show up for our community and for our country and for justice.
I expect you to show up this semester. And to take personal responsibility, human responsibility, for yourself and for the theatre.
Aretha calls it R-E-S-P-E-C-T. In the theatre, respect manifests itself in two primary forms: collaboration and professionalism.
As faculty member Janet Bobcean has pointed out, a lot of people talk about collaboration, but we do it. We understand what it really means. Others may see collaboration as compromise or weakness; we see it as breath, as joy, as strength. We know that we are wiser and stronger together than we are individually. We welcome a big, juicy debate and the opportunity to change our mind, to discover a new point of view. We thrive on the collective sensibility, the give-and-take of acting moments, design ideas, and directorial concepts. We don’t have to love one another, or even like one another. But as theatre artists, as collaborators with a shared goal, we respect one another.
In the past year, some of this country’s public and political discourse has disintegrated to new lows of intolerance, meanness, and hostility. That is not our way. Our way is respect.
The other manifestation of respect is professionalism. We talk a lot about professionalism at Northeastern. Professionalism doesn’t mean getting your Equity card. It’s not being paid for what you do. Professionalism is demonstrating respect and good manners in the work place.
Professionalism means if you are unhappy about your casting or crew assignment or in class or rehearsal, that you don’t complain about it and expend energy to convince others to join your camp of sorrows, to become a member of the Pouting Club of Wrong-ed Thea-tuh Art-eests.
Professionals adjust their attitude. They conduct themselves with integrity and find a solution. They don’t blame others, they look within. They don’t gossip – they address conflict with clarity and honesty. They recognize that what may seem to be a problem is actually a gift, an opportunity for personal revelation.
Professionals give more than they take. And they give respect.
And finally, the third “R.” Lest I sound like I’m lecturing you on good behavior like my annoying Aunt Ruth lectured me to always wear slippers in the house, I want to remind you to be all of that but also to be rebels.
You cannot create the theatre of your generation by coloring inside the lines. Find your voice, a new voice, a bolder, freer voice. Find your cause. Find your good reason to be angry. Find out what’s worth fighting for. Find a new methodology. Find a new form of expression for yourself and for the theatre. Pump up the volume. Break the rules. Challenge your teachers. Defy your parents. Shock the neighbors.
Eugene O’Neill and his comrades did not create American theatre by following a path but by imagining a new one. By taking risk after risk and failing and getting up and risking again.
So please, use your art to make some trouble in this troubled world.
Throughout the course of history, the truly great leaders have been the rebels – sources of inspiration and new ideas who imagined a direction where there was none. As Michael Chabon wrote: “Every grand accomplishment, every innovation that has benefited and enriched our lives, every lasting social transformation, every way out of despair, loneliness, fear and violence—has been the result of the creative imagination. Of the ability to reach beyond received ideas and ready-made answers to a new vision, a new way of seeing or hearing or moving through the world.”
Responsibility. Respect. Rebellion. These are my wishes for you – and my challenges to you.