Theatre Pre Grad Intern Jelisa Robinson
Maturity. Determination. And Sacrifice. - The Internship that Changed My Life
Fall 2009. I enrolled in the University of Texas as a first generation college student. My career goal was to become an actress but I knew that I needed to go to college. Starting in middle school, my mom stressed the importance of gaining an education so when senior year of high school came along, it wasn't a question of if I was going to college; it was more like where. My mom stressed going to college for undergrad, and also beyond. My career path as an actress doesn't require a degree, or an education. My favorite actor Johnny Depp didn't go to college. However, my mother and father instilled in me that an education was really important. It is the key to better life.
Throughout high school, my mom made sure that I made the most of my education! Staying up at night helping me with projects, proofreading college essays, and lecturing me about why college was key, she invested a lot of time into me. Because of her support, love, and lectures I am a sophomore at one of the best universities in the nation. My freshman year my mother decided finish her degree. This was something she had been talking about for a long time. I was proud of her because not only did she finish this semester but she has a stellar grade point average. Seeing her succeed motivated me to look beyond undergraduate and into graduate school opportunities.
Graduate school: a destination that was foreign to me until I stepped foot on University of Texas soil. I knew that it was possible, especially for those who wanted to become professors, but I didn't think that it was an option for me. In fact, it wasn't until my first semester in college that I began to research opportunities for Theatre Students in Graduate School. Now when I had the opportunity to do the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program, I had no idea that it would open my eyes about the world of theatre graduate school opportunities like it has. I am now more aware the different programs available, the career paths to take, and the life of a graduate student.
I heard about the program towards the end of freshman year through the email from my advisor. Yes, it helps to actually read those! I immediately clicked the link and read about the program, it's impact and requirements. I was then led to a mentor by graduate student Courtney Sale. Abra Chusid, a second year student in the Theatre for Young Audiences program at the University of Texas Austin agreed to undertake the internship with me. I remember the first time we met and discussed the possibility of undertaking the internship. Meeting her for the first time, and seeing how enthusiastic she was about helping young audiences in theatre encouraged me. She presented herself as an optimistic and strong-minded woman. The woman I wanted to become.
Even though I want to become an actress; I want to use my art better the world. That is exactly what Abra is doing! As she focuses on her Theatre for Young Audiences studies, she continuously finds ways to teach theatre to high school students. Her goal is to help students find confidence, determination, and self-esteem through art. Before graduate school, she helped facilitate classes at a school in Singapore giving the students a gift: the gift of theatre. For some of the students she taught it was their first time expressing themselves on stage. In Singapore, the culture is very different, because students are not expected to express themselves freely. That experience gave the students a creative outlet that built self-assurance and self-love. Not only has Abra been a tremendous impact in their lives but in my life as well!
During our mentorship, Abra and I spent at lot of time being involved in various projects. Our first project was Once Upon a Weekend, a department wide theatre event where eight playwrights write a play in 24 hours, eight directors and several actors rehearse it in two hours and then the next day, the play goes up in the lab theatre. Ironically, Abra and I participated in Once upon a Weekend last year both as actors. Both of us were playwrights this year. It was an incredible experience to have my mentor doing the same process, offering her advice and encouragement. For both of us, it was our first time seeing our written work on stage. The fact that we experienced this milestone together made this mentorship ten times more special.
I had the opportunity to see Abra perform in one of her fellow graduate student's thesis on museum theatre. In an effort to engage high school audiences in art, Abra's colleague wrote a piece about three female artists featured at the Blanton. It was staged in the Blanton Museum on campus and the cast presented an interactive play were actors portrayed three women artists featured in the museum. The audience members participated in a scavenger hunt to free the artists. We were put on teams and had to use clues to find the artists paintings. The thesis was focused on engaging a high school audience in museum art. I enjoyed the presentation because I was taking art history this semester and had to spend time listening to boring lectures for an hour three times a week. I wish art history classes would use museum theatre.
In addition to exposing me to different forms of theatre, Abra made sure to support my endeavors and offer at advice. During this semester, I directed and produces a play I wrote in the University of Texas Lab Theatre called Ice Cold Milk and An Oreo Cookie. Not only did Abra support my show, but she brought the cast and I snacks. I thought that it was super nice! She also read my script and offered her constructive criticisms, and gave me tips to make the directing experience easier. Directing Ice Cold Milk was a difficult challenge, but having the support of my mentor made it much easier. Abra even provided me with new acting opportunities. She recommended me to a fellow graduate student to be apart of her team for next years, New Works Festival. Next semester, I will be apart of Our Lady Peace in the festival, and I am excited! Next summer, I will be attending the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Conference in Chicago with Abra where get the opportunity to learn about how theatre can change the lives of younger generations.
The IE mentorship has helped me make connections in the department. Abra didn't hesitate to put me in contact with faculty and students who were involved in projects I was interested in. She introduced me to Professor Roxanne Arce, a bilingual playwright, because I mentioned that I wanted to write bilingual plays and screenplays pieces. Talking with Professor Arce helped me realize that playwriting was something I wanted to explore. We also had the opportunity to discuss playwriting with another graduate student in the department, Gabrielle, who I worked with during Once upon a Weekend. It was from her I gained insight about playwriting from someone who studies it. From these meetings and opportunities I learned about the art of playwriting, and how it was diffidently a career path that I wanted to pursue.
The IE program forced me to think about life after college. As college students, I feel like we get so comfortable in our college bubbles, being involved in our organizations and social circles that we forget that after this we have to get out and make our mark on the world. Upon leaving college, we have to get a job so that we can achieve a career and our dreams. Abra has helped me reaffirm that I do want to become an actress, but I also want to be a director, and playwright who writes and directs films that focus on bilingual theatre, social change, racial equality, teenage issues, and interracial relations. I believe that by doing this I can make an amazing impact on my community and inspire equality and understanding.
I've learned more about graduate school with this internship than I could have by reading an article on a website, listening to a lecture, or going to an advisor. I got the real details from someone who was doing what I desire to do, following her passion and forming a career path. Graduate school is not for the weak, theatre graduate students like Abra invest time, sweat, and blood into projects, thesis papers, research, plays, among other things. To survive in these graduate programs you have to have more than just passion, you must be resolute. Abra is among the most unwavering, and she has inspired me to keep looking at theatre graduate school even though at the moment I don't believe it's for me. I also plan look at other programs that interest me, like a Spanish graduate program.
I may not be ready to attend graduate school at this moment, but it definitely is an option that I will continue to research. Even if I don't do graduate school, I have taken a lot from this program, but mainly that using your passions to create change is a vital part of being an artist. I can only hope that my art makes the much needed positive impact in the lives of others.