Dear School of Theater Community,
Planning for the Fall semester continues on apace! I am sending you this update on our Fall 2020 plans as a follow up to Provost Tracie Costantino’s letter last week introducing CalArts Returns. We are excited by what the Fall holds and how our plans are evolving.
In light of the ongoing pandemic, the CalArts School of Theater will seek first to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty. Make no mistake, we are absolutely dedicated to this as the first principle. Simultaneously, we commit to upholding the singular CalArts educational experience.
We believe this is an opportunity to reimagine and reinvigorate our curriculum while adapting to any physical limitations with creativity and artistic rigor. Through the semester ahead, we will augment the inherent breadth of our theatrical pedagogy and practice with a more focused depth of engagement.
Critically, please know that a recommitment to an equitable and anti-racist environment is at the heart of our shared values for the year ahead. Please see "Anti-racist Pedagogy" below for additional information and know that further communications dedicated specifically to this focus will follow later this summer.
Curricular classes and projects will concentrate on smaller, more intimate, cohort driven learning, using significant in-person engagement with a remote learning component. These classes and projects will vary as appropriate to the pedagogical needs of each year-level and program.
The upcoming school year will also afford faculty and students the opportunity to dedicate more concerted energy to essential skills necessary to the 21st century theater artist – engagement with the camera, long-distance collaboration, self-producing/devising new work, program specific software, etc. For example, all of the BFA1 and MFA1 Actors will receive coordinated training in video shooting and editing. I am thrilled and humbly impressed by the exciting proposals emerging from our faculty – ones that promise long-term opportunities for our training model.
Programs/cohorts will limit their physical engagement to one or two physical spaces each (ex: The MFA1 Actors might hold the majority of their classes in F100 and an outdoor space). This will limit the number of students in a single classroom throughout a given day, and will eliminate unnecessary exposure. As you might imagine, our existence in Southern California on 60+ acres invites us to consider significant use of exterior space – something we’ve wanted to do for a long time!
Some semester classes will be adapted into modules or a hybrid combination of in-person/remote engagement, to allow for less physical class time, while providing additional time for other skills-based learning (editing, software instruction, group/individual projects).
The first month of the semester will focus primarily on classes and classroom instruction. This will allow us as a community to establish smooth and safe rituals for building entry, social distancing practices in the classroom, and engaging with each other as a school and wider institute.
Ensemble Based Production/Projects
In the second month, we will begin collaborative processes focused on small ensembles, adapting to the physical guidelines of the Institute.
The COVID challenge has provided us with an opportunity to take a step we’ve wanted to do for a long time – move assertively to an ensemble model of project creation. This has been a staple of experimental practice throughout the world – and crucial as a gesture of de-institutionalization of performance practice. Though always an important facet of the CalArts experience (Last year’s El Camino Donde Nosotros Lloramos, the Emilio Cruz George Project, and Monty Cole’s American Teenager were all fundamentally ensemble processes), the current environment invites us to embrace the creative potential of ensemble work in a more expansive and profound way. Working across disciplines and cultural boundaries will be encouraged. These smaller ensembles will allow for an expanded range of projects and voices, while enfranchising students to step beyond the traditional bounds of their given métier.
Both the Performance and Experience Design & Production Programs have exciting models for how to transform and improve our production experience – ones that accentuate and highlight our dedication to experimental practice, lateral production strategies, and cross-cultural engagement. Of course, classes and projects will be designed to transition to remote learning swiftly if/as needed.
We are hoping that the Fall semester, dedicated to project incubation and development, can result in a School-wide festival in the spring – one that can celebrate the broad cultural and aesthetic diversity of our community. We are truly thrilled about this as a possibility, particularly since we are embracing alternative models of project generation. We are exploring public presentation possibilities – both in person (outdoors) or through streaming – throughout the spring Semester.
Racism has no place at CalArts and is intolerable in the larger world. We have heard the many voices within and outside CalArts that seek concrete action regarding the ongoing oppression of Black students and citizens in contemporary America and within the CalArts community. We are formulating a direct action plan – one evolved with students, faculty and staff, and the Institute leadership. It will take all of our concerted action to address systemic racism. Students are rightly looking for CalArts to lead this effort. I pledge to spare no energy to provide a CalArts free of racism and will communicate with you as an action plan is developed.
Community and Collaboration
To maintain the Theater School ecology of interdisciplinary, experimental, international, and diverse practice, it is essential to provide pathways for our community to engage with each other. We plan to hold all-school meetings and visiting artist talks remotely, as well as various program, year-level, and issue-specific meetings. We will also seek to provide pathways for students to engage each other in student-generated work, including but not limited to the Winter Lab.
Yes, we are being confronted with unprecedented challenges. That said, it is my absolute conviction that those challenges will activate our creativity, conscience, dedication to social justice, and provide us with unforeseen opportunities. COVID gives us the chance to maximize creative anarchy and create alternatives to traditional hierarchies in our processes. I know I speak for the entire School of Theater faculty and staff when I say that we are exhilarated by the challenges.
Looking forward to an exciting, transformative year!
Dean, CalArts School of Theater