What We May Be: Ep. 3 – Past and Present, Part 2

Episode 3 – Past and Present, Part 2

What’s the difference between diversity and equity? How is education changing? What kinds of people are our education programs trying to create? Rafael delves into these questions and more, while exploring after school and camp programs at Seattle Shakespeare. Our guests this week are director and educator Valerie Curtis-Newton, teaching artist Anastasia Higham, actor Sunam Ellis, and former Seattle Shakespeare student Violet Keteyian. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 3 – Past and Present, Part 2 transcript

Rafael Molina (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to What We May Be: Race and Education. In this week’s episode, we’ll continue our exploration into how the past and the present of education intersect. We’ll be looking at multiple journeys from student to educator, the experiences of an artist who inhabits many rooms and the insights of a current student. Our interview guests on this episode are Violet Keteyian, Sunnam Ellis, Anastasia Higham and Valerie Curtis Newton. Let’s get started. Hi, Valerie. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Valerie Curtis Newton (00:40):

I am a director educator, a golf player, a play writer an activist theater director, most most interested in trying to bring people together to make the world better. I worked at places from as big as the Guthrie theater and as small as, I don’t know, pick the smallest space in Seattle and I’ve probably done stuff there. I grew up on the East Coast. Actually I grew up a little bit all around. My father was in the air force and then we settled in Connecticut, which is where I was born. And I came out here for grad school. I never left. I thought I was going to go back. And then I finished school and looked up two years later and I had a house, a wife, a cat, and a dog. Then I thought maybe I would stay with them. So I’m still here. .

Rafael Molina (01:46):

Valerie, what was your experience as a student? Like

Valerie Curtis Newton (01:49):

Growing up? I was largely almost exclusively the only black kid in most of my classes when I was young, there were, there were some places we lived where there was a larger black population, but most of the time I was the only one. So I learned to navigate predominantly white spaces. And then I got a little bit radicalized when I was in the sixth grade and I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And then I got radicalized a little more when I went to a predominantly white college, but there was a really, really close and active group of black students there. And then I went to work in the insurance industry and and again, I was largely the only black person in most of the circles that I moved in. But I discovered that I could use my interest in theater to connect to community outside of my work environment. So I’ve used the theater as a way to ground myself and to stay connected to black people, even when my, the rest of my life isn’t as well centered.

Rafael Molina (03:06):

This predominance of whiteness that you experienced in your education were there any like evolutions or changes as you moved from high school to arts educational programming that you experienced to your BA or your MFA? Did it, did it ever change in any way? Was it always generally the same?

Valerie Curtis Newton (03:27):

Well, you know, there is something about being the only one that makes for as much as you try to avoid it, this notion that you’re not like other black people, the reason you’re in there and the reason they get along with you is that you’re not like other black people and that can undermine your sense of self of self-confidence because you can be brilliant and be like all the other black people, you can be articulate and be like all the other black people. You can be smart. And the idea that white people would quote unquote not see color means that they have to make some adjustment in order to see me because I am colored. And it happened in undergrad the first day of classes not when I was moving in, there was a Dean, a black Dean who said to me on meeting me that he didn’t, that I must not be on financial aid because he didn’t recognize my face or my name. And I also went to class on the first day of class and I had a teacher before he handed out the syllabus. He looked at me and said he was available to, to tutor if I had any difficult. So there was an underestimation of me in many environments. And then there was the opposite, which is the you know, you’re, you’re super exceptional. You’re not like any black person I’ve ever seen. I survived it.

Rafael Molina (05:07):

How do you think that predominance exists currently for this generation of students? Has it evolved in any way? Has it changed?

Valerie Curtis Newton (05:18):

Well, I think we’re right at a really pivotal moment right now. You know, this notion of racial reckoning is, has a lot more students of color. Global majority students declaring themselves to be declaring their brilliance, declaring their blackness, their native American-ness their Asian American-ness like they’re declaring those things and forcing people to deal with them on the basis of those things. Not in, not in avoidance of them. And so they’re changing the system a little bit by little bit, you know, the department that I work in at the University of Washington this summer released an anti-racist action plan, largely the result of students calling for this kind of racial reckoning. So I think that the environment is changing because the students are changing.

Rafael Molina (06:15):

We’ll be back with more of Valerie’s interview throughout the episode.Up next Anastasia. Higham. Hello, Anastasia. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Anastasia Higham (06:27):

Yeah. I am Seattle born and raised grew up here in in a theater family. My parents met doing a show and so I did a lot of theater growing up here education programs. I went to the center school, which is actually a small public school in the armory in the Seattle center. And I was actually an education intern at Seattle shakes during my senior year of high school. And then I went to Whitman college where I majored in sociology, but did a lot of theater while I was there. And I did an education internship at Seattle Children’s Theater during one of the summers that I was back. And then after graduation, I came back to Seattle to act professionally. And one of the first, I think the first job actually that I had out of college was a summer job with Seattle Shakespeare Company with their camp bill program sort of acting in a assistant director camp, counselor role.

Anastasia Higham (07:37):

And then as I continued to act in Seattle, I also continued to work with Shakes in that kind of capacity sort of moving up into teaching movement and doing some directing for Short Shakes and event, eventually some directing for Camp Bill. And I also got involved with the Seattle Shakes educational tour for three years traveling all over the state acting and also interacting with students in a teaching capacity that way. And I, I feel like that’s one of the most impactful and important parts of my journey as an actor was that tour. And and I also performed with Seattle Shakes in Wooden O and on their main stage. And in the past few years have sort of been moving as well as doing acting, moving more into also doing directing and working with students as more of sort of my main thing. Right now, you know I’m at kind of a transitional point where I think a lot of people are in what my career is going to be looking like, as it goes forward and how much it’s going to include theater or not. But I was really grateful this summer to get to direct Camp Bill virtually and we did aA Midsummer Night’s Dream on zoom with students, and that was a really wonderful three week process. Yeah. So that’s me.

Rafael Molina (09:05):

Thank you. You already were talking about it. I just want to go into it a little deeper. Can you talk to me a little bit more about your experience as a director with Short Shakes and Camp Bill interacting with students?

Anastasia Higham (09:18):

Yeah, it’s, it’s always a huge joy working with students growing up you know, being a, a student in these kinds of types of programs. I know how much I enjoyed it then. And so getting to sort of be on the other side of it is really magical and getting to watch the way that students grow as you have them just, just sometimes even over the weeks of camp, but also as you have them for multiple years seeing them grow up and seeing them get more confident is really amazing. Seeing them surprise you how much they’re capable of. And it’s just really fun. And and getting to see getting to work on the text with people who are maybe pretty new to it and seeing them go, Oh, when they really get something or find something that you never saw in it before. And and also getting to see with Short Shakes, particularly they get to connect with the main stage cast and be like, Oh, you know, you’re playing Portia, I’m playing Portia and let’s talk about the character and that’s really that’s really a special opportunity and a really, really fun thing to see.

Rafael Molina (10:31):

Yeah. It sounds amazing. Being able to, like you’re saying, see there not only growth right. In the, in the arts and specifically in Shakespeare, but also just, you know, as kids turning into young adults, that’s really amazing side-by-side to that. Have you seen the program evolve or grow in any way either or.

Anastasia Higham (10:51):

Yeah, I would, I would say so. I think that the you know, looking back from when I was like assistant directing, it was, you know, quite a few years ago now, I think that the commitment to like concept in the shows and the, and the production has grown stronger. I think Michelle Burce doing a really amazing job with the kind of sets and spaces that the students have access to and what they get to build together, which is part of the, the Camp Bill production in particular. And I think especially, you know, I worked with Samara Lerman and Zandi Carlson and seeing their commitment to concept and that really fun kinds of like, this is a circus,uComedy of Errors, or this is a, you know, old school Hollywood 12th Night,uthat those kinds of concepts of are really, really strong.

Anastasia Higham (11:48):

And I, I also think I think I’ve seen a change in, I think I’ve seen more kindness among the students in as the program has gone on. And I don’t know, you know, if that comes from a sort of general generational thing or a or it’s specific to the program, but it’s really, I think that the way that students work together and how they respect each other and how they how, just how they are with each other and around new language about things like gender expression and new protocols around like staged intimacy, and like just, you know, asking like, Hey, can I touch you for the scene? Or like how that kind of thing, I think that’s a big, a big change that I’ve seen is that, that sort of commitment to each other.

Rafael Molina (12:44):

I have a lot of hope for gen Zers. I see that that kindness as well throughout these interviews, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about inclusive spaces you know, in, in, in different mediums throughout various institutions and organizations. And I’m just curious you know, in this capacity, in the room of, of teaching, you know, students and youth about Shakespeare, what, what kind of inclusive spaces have you seen or not seen? Has that ever been something that has been part of the dialogue?

Anastasia Higham (13:18):

Yeah. I think somewhere that I’ve definitely noticed inclusion, we touched on this already a little bit, but is that is around gender and gender expression and pronouns. And I think that’s been, you know, maybe one of the most visible changes is having non-binary students in the program. And I think hopefully really honoring their expression and their journeys and their pronouns and and thinking carefully in casting choices about how best to to sort of serve what they are doing in their lives. And yeah, so that’s sort of the first thing that, that that strikes me. And also I think you know, I don’t, I don’t wanna, I don’t know the statistics exactly. Just on the observational level. I think that I believe that the Midsummer that we did this summer did have the, the highest number of students of color in the cast, at least in the productions that I have worked on with Short Shakes and Camp Bill.

Rafael Molina (14:37):

So you’ve definitely seen like an active shift in, in that demographic something that’s growing.

Anastasia Higham (14:43):

Yeah, yeah, I think so, I’m not involved in that sort of outreach side of things in those kinds of conversations that are happening behind the scenes as how to encourage that. But I do think I’m seeing the effects of it

Rafael Molina (14:57):

Seeing the effects of it in the room. W what impact have you seen on, on all the kids or the students or the young adults as it’s growing and in comparison to before when maybe there wasn’t diversity or inclusion?

Anastasia Higham (15:10):

Yeah. I think just this summer hearing, you know, on the first day hearing, like, everybody’s sort of, Hey, who are you, what’s your story? Kind of our opening introduction. I was like, Oh, I’m hearing some stories that are different from what I’ve heard in past years. And I think the students are, are hearing different things than they would in, in past years. And hopefully recognizing stories that are like their own in some cases, in stories that are new to them. And I think that is really important and was kind of a great experience to have this summer. I think some of the impacts that it has are things that we won’t see because they’re, they’re internal to the students they’re down the road for them. That that will be that they’ll maybe realize how important that that was. But I know on my end, it is you know, I mentioned casting a little before, but it is something that has impacted me in terms of doing casting is like, I want to think really carefully about what any casting I’m doing is saying.

Anastasia Higham (16:19):

You know, and that’s, that’s always a concern I know in a professional sphere because that’s very visible and that’s very much, you know, you’re, you’re casting from this wide pool and trying to figure out what story it is you want to tell, but even in our little pool of actors, that’s already been chosen because they’re in the program. And that, you know, it’s the wa a wider audience is not going to see this. It is really important to, to go, like, what, what story are we telling the students about who they can be and who, you know, what characters and what qualities they can take on. And so that’s something that, on my side of it, I know, is, has been really important to me

Rafael Molina (17:04):

For students in particular. It feels like a deep cultivation of empathy, too, you know?

Anastasia Higham (17:09):

Yeah. You know, hopefully what we’re doing in these campuses, you know, stepping into other people’s shoes and, and yeah. And exercising our empathy with our characters. But hopefully we’re also doing that with the other people that we’re working with and having more diversity and inclusion is only going to be good for that on the artistic side. And that the human side, the value of that kind of can’t be overstated that exercising empathy. And and also these camps in particular, we’re working with these very, these classic stories, right? This classic language that’s been that we see as this, this archetype, this, these stories that have been really important to our language and our way of thinking about the world in ways that we probably don’t even always realize, and we have these archetypes and historically we’ve thought of these archetypes and these characters and these stories as being mostly very white and very you know, sort of the type of people who would enjoy these, or see these as mostly being like upper-class or academic, or these stories have been seen, you know, whether accurately or not as a kind of stuffy.

Anastasia Higham (18:18):

And so it’s always been a value of Shakespeare education to sort of dispel that and to, to help students, you know, not be afraid of Shakespeare, but I think that that’s so redoubled by, by being like, this is for everyone, you know, this, these characters can be played by so many different types of people. And and these words in these stories belong to everyone. And that instilling that idea at a very young age, I think will, will just really do a lot as the students grow up and continue to be involved in the arts in whatever way they are, whether they are an artist working on productions or they’re a patron, whatever it is, they, they already just know in their core that these stories and these characters are for everybody. And that hopefully expands out to a lot of other art and a lot of other life. But yeah, starting, starting early with with inclusion. So it just becomes, it’s just a no brainer. It’s just part of how this has always been.

Rafael Molina (19:29):

Thanks Anastasia for your time and insights.

Anastasia Higham (19:32):

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on

Rafael Molina (19:35):

Here’s Valerie. I want to pick your brain a little bit, and your thoughts on diversity as a means of decolonization when it is constantly defined by white institutions and those metrics of success.

Valerie Curtis Newton (19:53):

I think that the question has, there’s a reason that the language has changed from diversity to equity. It’s not enough just to have lots of different kinds of people. We’re recognizing that the thing we really want is to be treated equitably. And if they’re not going to treat us equitably or arrange the institution to treat us equitably, then there’s no point in being engaged. So that’s what I think. I think that we’re only now learning the right levers to pull. We’ve been pulling a bunch of levers, but they’ve been the wrong ones. Having a bunch of people of color doesn’t necessarily make for a more equitable environment, especially if the people of color are silenced inside the system.

Rafael Molina (20:44):

What about in terms of accountability? How do we hold institutions and organizations accountable for that level of diversity? That is, that is equitable and not defined by a white lens or, or metrics of success that don’t apply or support black, Brown BIPOC people.

Valerie Curtis Newton (21:06):

I think I’ve been talking a lot right now about the need for three things. I need to know who to complain to, who can make change. I need a guarantee that there will not be retaliation for demanding change, and then we need brave, compassionate, courageous people to tell the truth. That’s what accountability looks like

Rafael Molina (21:36):

Up next. Sunam Ellis. Hi, Sunam tell us a little bit about yourself.

Sunam Ellis (21:43):

I’m Sunam Ellis. I’m an actor and an educator here in Seattle, and until COVID hit us, I was doing about five or six shows a year with various theaters in town. From the time I graduated from UW University of Washington from their MFA program I was really, really lucky and just delved into a lot of work and have been really felt blessed to be invited into a lot of rooms. And in that I’ve also expanded to do a little bit of directing and some teaching of, of in elementary schools at the university level, at, at church at different areas. So it’s been really wonderful that I’ve been able to share the things that I’ve been taught and share them with communities that might not always get that information or get to play in that way. So that’s a little bit of my story.

Rafael Molina (22:44):

I love you. I love all the things you do. Oh,

Sunam Ellis (22:46):

Well, thank you.

Rafael Molina (22:49):

As an educator, a director and actor, what kind of impact have you seen diversity or the lack of diversity having in those rooms?

Sunam Ellis (22:57):

I, I feel that the more diversity that you have, the more that you have to expand yourself to take in different points of view, to take in different experiences and it increases your empathy. And when I see a lack of diversity, I think we can get pigeonholed into thinking that the world only thinks one way or with narrow, narrow blinders on. And so having diversity and even just teaching in different communities, being able to look at different communities and seeing different needs that come up in the different communities is just a important reminder that there is more out there than what we’ve experienced and no matter how broad our experience has been, there’s more and being open to the fact that there’s more and almost seeking it so that we don’t miss it when it’s in front of us. Because I think so many of us miss it, it’s right there. And we don’t actually take the time to look. And I think in today’s society, because we’re in the Twitter world and doing things in such short bursts, that our attention doesn’t just sit and linger in what we’re experiencing or the places that we’re at. And so I think just inviting ourselves to be more present when we’re in different spaces and looking for the things that might be offered to us.

Rafael Molina (24:26):

And, you know, also just the notion, right, that diversity yes, it’s being in the room, but it is as well, a redistribution of power. What have you seen in terms of that across the board with the places you’ve worked?

Sunam Ellis (24:39):

I feel that in a lot of theaters there is a desire to put POC BIPOC on their stages. Unfortunately, it’s just that that’s the minimum just to get them on the stages. So they’ll use BIPOC as filler, but then I feel that those are the people who grace, the posters who grace their hallways, so that there’s a pat on the back, right? And so there’s just this exploitation, there’s this take of what they think can make those ticket sales that can make them look like they are doing the work, but the work isn’t actually being done, because you look at the power in a theater room who has the equity contracts who whose voice is listened to when we’re talking through a scene, who are we all turning towards to find more information? And yes, sometimes it’s that person who has experience, but sometimes it’s just that person who’s used to being listened to in the room.

Sunam Ellis (25:51):

Right. And so that might not creating a time when someone says, no, wait, let’s actually broaden this up because I don’t think we’ve heard from all the voices and just taking the space to say, Hey, this person is saying something I want to hear more in making that invitation known. And I don’t think that’s done enough in the room. I know I’ve had times because I am half Korean and I’ve had times when I’ve asked about incorporating that into a character and in the moment having people of power say, Oh, that’s very interesting, but that’s all I get. I get that interesting. But there’s nothing incorporated into character when it’s not something that would be terribly difficult to do. Right. Hey, can I have since you’re kind of right now looking for styles of a teacup, what if you make sure you look at tea cups that have Asian design on it?

Sunam Ellis (26:53):

Just a little bit of detail that would say, yes, we are paying attention to the details beyond just look, we have a person with a different skin tone on the stage that we’re going beyond that. And I don’t think that people actually take the time to invest in those opportunities. It helps me be a better artist. It lets me know that I can bring my whole self in, instead of trying to figure out what the white, pure white version of me looks like, so that I can get the next job. So I don’t, I don’t know what part of me to bring in a room because I don’t know that I’m going to be heard or seen or appreciated as someone who has this Korean heritage that I bring that in. But I feel that sometimes there’s this energy of, we don’t need that part. That’s interesting, but we don’t want that for the story. And I don’t know all the time why that isn’t invited in, or just the discussion of how can we bring that in? What could that mean for our story? Which I think could bring out much more interesting depth.

Rafael Molina (28:05):

Absolutely. It just makes for richer storytelling.

Sunam Ellis (28:07):

Yes, absolutely. 100%.

Rafael Molina (28:10):

You know, what are some ways we can hold organizations accountable as a community for this level of diversity that, that we’re talking about.

Sunam Ellis (28:19):

We need our, our allies to kind of stand beside us and say, we want to see more diversity, if just a bunch of BIPOC email and say, we want more diversity. I don’t think it’s going to have the same impact because I think it’s easier for those leaders to say, Oh, that’s just you, right. That’s not our, all our audience. And we can, we want to make sure we cater to a more, all we want to cater to diversity. They can throw that back at us. So we need to have allies and a BIPOC saying, we want to see that diversity on the stage. And we want to see it at every level in your process. There needs to be, I think there needs to be Oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Transparency, transparency in where the voices are invited into the process so that we can see that it’s not just at that tail end where so many powerful decisions have already been made.

Sunam Ellis (29:25):

Without that transparency, without those people in power holding on. I mean, if they just hold onto it so tightly, you can’t see it. It’s my thing. I want to do it my way then. Of course we can’t get, in course there’s no room. Yeah. And that’s, I mean, that’s ego on their part, first of all. But if they’re, if they just want stories to be told for them and their people, then I think that let’s have that reflected in your mission statement. Let’s have that reflected in your posters. If that’s what you want, stop exploiting us. And maybe the voices, those few of us who feel like we can stand up and say, no, this doesn’t work. Say I will not be on your poster. You are not allowed to use my image until your company reflects what I can bring to that poster, which is, again, me again, knowing that that is a really difficult decision. And I have been in a position where I’ve talked to an artistic director and said, Hey, some poor choices were being made. And went in with the fear of, this could be the end for me. I know that’s scary, but I feel like if enough of us come in and say, we’re done, I, I feel like we will force their hand.

Rafael Molina (30:46):

How do you hope that the work you do impacts young people and students?

Sunam Ellis (30:52):

I, I hope it gives them permission to use their voices. And I, I try and use my voice in a way where I’m still hoping for humanity to win the day. At least I try. I know I failed. There are days when I get so mad and like, actually my choice in my brain right now is just a punch you in the face. Like that’s like where I am, but I work really hard to try and say, but what I want to leave in the world is hoping for here, your humanity and talking it through. And I have found that now that I have gotten a little more established, I have to look out at younger people and people who haven’t had the experience quite yet to make sure that they are finding their voice and finding that they too are worthy. That just because I’ve been in more rooms so far, just that’s just time we get so caught up in our own little bubble of it’s just us.

Sunam Ellis (31:58):

And I have to get my lines and I have to do my story. And if we have the capacity, some people don’t, if you have that capacity to stop and look and see if everyone’s with you, and if they’re not help by just being present or saying is there anything I can do to make your day better today or something? And I feel like I’m being like Pollyanna or naïve sometimes, but that’s how I try and move through the world. Just because it’s such a hard world. I think we got to help and hold on to each other where we can.

Rafael Molina (32:37):

That’s beautiful. Thank you Sunam for Your thoughts and your time.

Sunam Ellis (32:42):

Thank you.

Rafael Molina (32:42):

Valerie, what are your hopes for the current generation of students.

Valerie Curtis Newton (32:48):

That they are brave, compassionate, courageous, and confident, and they carry that into every space that they enter.

Rafael Molina (32:56):

Next Violet Catan. Hi, Violet. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Violet Keteyian (33:03):

My name is Violet Keteyian I use they them pronouns. I’m 17. I write things. I write poetry and plays and prose. I also act and direct things. I have a small theater company it’s called Goosh-it productions. We do like devised and scripted performances by and for young weirdos.

Rafael Molina (33:25):

Amazing. I love that. Is this a new company?

Violet Keteyian (33:29):

Yeah, I started it last spring, I think.

Rafael Molina (33:32):

Cool. What made you want to start your own theater company?

Violet Keteyian (33:36):

So I’d been doing educational theater for a long time and I really liked it. But then as I got into high school, I started to like age out a little bit. And I also had like really specific ideas about the plays that I wanted to do. Like I wanted to write my own plays and direct plays and the ways that I was thinking about them. And I also, like, I wanted to do theater but I wasn’t ready for professional theater, you know? I wanted to keep that educational theater feeling of like, just doing a play with my friends in a short amount of time and having fun.

Rafael Molina (34:19):

What about those ideas, right. Of the type of play that you wanted to do and be a part of, how did that differ from some of the educational types of plays or scripts that you, that you might’ve been doing with either Seattle Shakespeare or any other programming that you took?

Violet Keteyian (34:37):

Mostly I was, I’m just like excited about doing more experimental theater, like the plays that I did as part of educational theater, where like, just traditionally you get a script and then you like memorize the lines and perform it, you know? And I did enjoy that, but I also was like, I wanted to like add in some elements of improv and some elements of like creating a piece of theater as a community, you know, not just having a director who tells actors what to do, you know, everybody having like a similar amount of agency.

Rafael Molina (35:17):

Super cool. So like really ensemble based.

Violet Keteyian (35:20):

Yes, exactly.

Rafael Molina (35:21):

Amazing. Well, I look forward to seeing what y’all create.

Violet Keteyian (35:26):

Yeah. I’m excited to get back to it once we can do live theater again.

Rafael Molina (35:31):

Circling back to, you know, these, these programs that you did that were educational. Can you talk a little bit about what made you want to take part in them?

Violet Keteyian (35:40):

Yeah. so part of the thing was I was like weirdly, very excited about Shakespeare since I was pretty little I, there was a production company led by a teenager that I was, I saw her do a lot of Shakespeare plays back when I lived in Boston. And I was like, wait, I really, really want to do that too. So like, I was just very interested in Shakespeare and performing. I’ve just like always, I don’t know. I I’ve wanted, since I was really young to be part of, youth theatre and performing and being on stages. I just like it a lot.

Rafael Molina (36:26):

Cool. when you attend these programs or, or even like in school, like how often do you have discussions about how racism or anti-racism play into like the text or the world you’re creating or any kind of facet?

Violet Keteyian (36:41):

Not very often. I didn’t, I didn’t experience a lot of those conversations in the place I was in, unless the play that we were working on was specifically talking about race and racism.

Rafael Molina (36:58):

Do you want to have those conversations more? Do you think they’re important?

Violet Keteyian (37:02):

I do. I think they’re really important. I think that it’s important in Shakespeare, especially in like educational Shakespeare settings where people are often learning about Shakespeare for the first time because Shakespeare is like historically, you know, very white and he’s part of the white Western Canon. So I think that it’s really important to learn about the parts of Shakespeare that are, you know, racist and stuff. Because unless you’re like deep into Shakespeare, I think that like just the, the texts standing alone in like a, you know, more historically like an Elizabethan production, you know, it’s like, it’s so much less relevant to everybody. Than if you’re explicitly saying, like, here is a theme from this thing that this guy wrote 400 years ago, and here’s how it connects the things that we’re thinking about right now. And also, I think that it’s just important for anti-racism to be part of all the different kinds of education that you do, you know, because racism in America is so institutional, you know, so it, like, it does touch like all of the parts of all our lives.

Rafael Molina (38:18):

Totally. What is, what is school been like for you, like during this COVID climate?

Violet Keteyian (38:25):

So I was homeschooled until last year when I started doing full-time running start. So there’s a lot of parts of now that are honestly not super different for me, because I’m already very used to motivating my own learning at home. But it is also very stressful. Learning, like, you know, learning how to do things in this new way with the online school and not being in contact with people as much hard times. ,

Rafael Molina (39:05):

Absolutely. What are your hopes for,

Violet Keteyian (39:08):

You know, how that will develop or resolve or get better? I mean, I mean, just like on a basic level, I just want to see my friends again, you know

Rafael Molina (39:24):

Me too, me too. Thank you so much for your thoughts and your time,

Rafael Molina (39:35):

Valerie, what is your vision of the future of education?

Valerie Curtis Newton (39:42):

I’m really, really interested in the mission to create compassionate, active, engaged citizens. I want, I want to make students who are curious, who are engaged and who are smart and strategic, who will understand how all the pieces fit together. And I think that we can do that, but we have to start young and we have to make that the mission from the very beginning, what, right now we’re super, super focused on how everyone’s going to have a job, but we’re moving into an environment where automation and technology are making jobs more and more difficult to get because there are fewer and fewer of them. So then it’s, how do we innovate? How do we create new things, new ways to work new gifts, to give. And in order to get that done, we need to have from quote unquote, soft skills, the ones we stopped teaching 20 years ago,

Rafael Molina (40:51):

Can you speak a little bit more to that, those soft skills?

Valerie Curtis Newton (40:54):

Yeah. We need to know how to listen. We need to know how to be resilient, how to fail and get up and keep going. We need to know how to collaborate, which doesn’t mean capitulation. We need to know how to lead, which also does not mean compromise.

Valerie Curtis Newton (41:12):

We have to teach people to see problems and then envision solutions. You know what we’ve been doing in the last generation is we’ve been teaching people to check boxes, teaching them to take tests, but not necessarily teaching them the real concepts, the depth of the concepts that are being tested. And we have to get back in that way. We have to get back to sort of more old school, liberal arts education educating. It’s a very, very clear battle that’s going on right now between vocational training and liberal arts training between STEM and STEAM. I would like to see more STEAM education because I think the arts teach the soft skills maybe better than any other set of tools.

Rafael Molina (42:15):

What are your thoughts on, on incorporating, you know, that the soft skills that kind of liberal arts approach to institutional forms of learning that that are like already established, you know, because the difficulty is there, right? When you have state mandated curriculum or requirements, but you also want to be empathetic to the kids that are in the room, right? The people that are there, what are your thoughts of that? Like incorporating that practice?

Valerie Curtis Newton (42:45):

Well, you know, again, I go back to the arts, you have to know your audience, right? And if we stop treating our students as consumers and treat them more like audience, we’ll do a better job of meeting them where they are, but we do right now, we have to, we treat our students like consumers. You don’t have to learn in this way, if you don’t want to, because you’re paying your tuition. So I’m gonna, I’m going to treat you the way I’m going to teach you the way you want to be taught. Even if it’s not the most efficient way of teaching a particular subject. I, I have this happen often with students who want to tell me how to teach them, and I want to teach how to manage their expectations so they can learn from what it is I’m offering. It doesn’t mean I never shift to the students’ needs, but I prefer to shift to their needs and not to their wants. And in the consumer mentality, it’s a lot about what I want and it ignores what is needed.

Rafael Molina (43:50):

Well, thank you, Valerie. Thank you for your time and insights.

Valerie Curtis Newton (43:53):

You’re welcome. I’m glad to have spent some time with you, and I hope it’s useful conversation as part of your series.

Rafael Molina (44:01):

That’s all for today. This series is a fundraiser for Seattle Shakespeare company’s educational department. If you enjoyed this content and would like to learn more about Seattle Shakespeare Company’s educational programs, or if you’re able to support us with a donation, please visit seattleshakespeare.org/education celebration. We’ll be back next week with another episode. So subscribe wherever you get this podcast from.

Join our conversation with the following speakers

Valerie Curtis-Newton, Director and Educator
Anastasia Higham, Teaching artist
Sunam Ellis, Artist
Violet Keteyian, former Seattle Shakespeare student

See other episodes

Episode 0 – Series Trailer

Intro to the series by Rafael Molina, our host

Episode 1 – The Brainstorm

Featuring Dedra D. Woods, Michelle Burce, Manny Cawaling

In our first episode, we explore the foundations of education. You’ll be introduced to Seattle Shakespeare’s education programs, as well as what education and racial equity look like for individual artists, educational and theatrical institutions, and our society at large. We are joined by artist and activist Dedra D. Woods (Artists of Color Seattle); Seattle Shakespeare’s Education Director, Michelle Burce; and Manny Cawaling of Inspire Washington. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 2 – Past and Present, Part 1

Featuring Desdemona Chiang, QuiQui Dominguez and Caitlin Honig

 This week, Rafael explores education in schools and classrooms, from stories about being an immigrant struggling to understand playground games to the importance of rebellious teachers and the power of showing students that Shakespeare can be for them (and the struggle when it feels like it isn’t). Our guests are director Desdemona Chiang, multihyphenate artist QuiQui Dominguez, and high school teacher Caitlin Honig. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 3 – Past and Present, Part 2

 What’s the difference between diversity and equity? How is education changing? What kinds of people are our education programs trying to create? Rafael delves into these questions and more, while exploring after school and camp programs at Seattle Shakespeare. Our guests this week are director and educator Valerie Curtis-Newton, teaching artist Anastasia Higham, actor Sunam Ellis, and former Seattle Shakespeare student Violet Keteyian. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 4 – The Future

In our final episode, Rafael explores what the future of educational theatre, Seattle, and the arts community at large might and could look like. Learn about artists who are pushing us forward with new interpretations, new work, new people in the room. Dive deep into the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program with Lamar Legend, learn more about upstart crow collective with Rosa Joshi, and hear about what BIPOC and predominantly white institutions should do next (and so much more) with Sara Porkalob.

We hope you will be inspired by each episode to actively decolonize, restructure, and create accountability in theatrical education, and then you’ll come back here for a virtual exploration of the camps and classestalkbacks and toursstudy guides and student stories you heard about on the podcast.