While not as widely broadcast as it once was, remember the saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?” The implication of course is that teachers can’t cut it in the real world or workforce. I recently read an article that flipped this: “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, do.” This implication was that applying knowledge, skills, and experience in practice is easy—what’s truly challenging is educating and empowering others to be able to do so.
Why bring this up? The tension residing in the dated piece of conventional wisdom resonated with me, and its remix captures the way Oedipus el Rey and the sweep of programming my fellow Mammoths and I shaped around it.
Connectivity programming around Oedipus el Rey intended to interrogate the personal and local resonance of the social issues embedded in the play by highlighting the work of organizations and individuals in our city. Essentially we expanded the Woolly community to include on-the-ground experts in fields of, among others: recidivism, re-entry, prison reform, juvenile justice, literacy, job readiness, mentoring, and homelessness in order to generate meaningful conversation inspired by the production. In the end the theatre made new friends, the dialogue created was rich and evocative, and audience members developed their understanding of the play within the context of themselves and their city.
Ok, but what about me and this “do vs. teach” tension?
For 11 years I worked through various theatres and arts organizations in the metro area in education and community programming: designing, administering, and facilitating or teaching. I also spent a year as a classroom teacher in the PG County school system. I worked to varying degrees of closeness with a significant number of DC and Maryland youth ensnared in a tangle of negative societal and social cycles. These young people seemed, like Oedipus, to be cursed; their fates driven by outside forces constantly thwarting their desire for self-determination and change. Among a handful of reasons I no longer work in education was the recognition that while I was good at direct delivery (teaching, mentoring) I was better at being an “enabler.” To enable – to provide resources, authority or opportunity to do something; to make something possible or feasible. My realization started within the arts-education context and my first step was to leave classroom teaching and become Director of Education & Outreach at Round House Theatre. There I was predominantly a theatre-arts-educator enabler. But eventually I realized I wanted to become a theatre-audience enabler, working directly with and between the people in the seats and the people on the stage. Working with Woolly last season on the early stages of what has become the Connectivity pillar of the organization and my position, I realized I wanted to be a theatre-community enabler in which the relationship was two-way: giving and receiving from one another. In other words, the relationship would be a constant dialogue or possess a high rate of connectivity.
However: as I met with Woolly’s various community collaborators for Oedipus el Rey, I questioned the value of my newfound enabler position. You can witness, assess, and measure the impact of direct service to youth and community. You know you are doing “the good work” and serving humanity on a very real, very immediate, and tangible level. You can metaphorically hack your way against the negative cycles that drive people’s fates.
After our final Mammoth Forum, which was particularly focused on youth development and programs in the juvenile justice system, I shared this tension with one of Woolly’s Claque members. She too holds an enabler position in her workplace (immigration and human rights law) and wrestles with the value this role. She told me she had been recently reminded that working for and in service to those on the ground and in the field was just as valuable. To support and enable made the direct-service possible and so was integral to its success. (And, yes, she gave me the word “enable.”) She looped the message back to me: in order for Woolly’s shows to land with its audiences, in order for Woolly to grow its community and stay connected to its city, the theatre needs you. Oh yeah, right.
I looked back through the connectivity work of the theatre (dialogues, blogs, playbills, podcasts, videos). I began processing data collected through our participation in the Intrinsic Impact Study, and I realized Oedipus el Rey was a turning point for me and Woolly Mammoth.
What drives my fate? The desire to change the world through art, through theatre.
Because: Those who can, do. Those who can also connect, encourage, and hopefully inspire change.
~ Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director