Former All Saints actor and local teaching artist, Rachel McNamara recently returned from a ten-day symposium at New York’s prestigious Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Gaining one of the places in the Center’s Defining Your Practice program came at an almost perfect time in her career.
Rachel is currently a teaching artist with the Sydney Theatre Company’s School Drama™ program that partners primary school teachers with professional performing artists.
She has also taught Drama and English at a number of schools, was a member of LATT Theatre in Seoul, Korea for three years and was a performer with Brainstorm Productions, a company producing in-school theatre aiming to reduce the prevalence of bullying in schools and improving student behaviour and well-being.
“I have a teaching degree and a performing arts degree and at this point in my life I have ten years in both, so for me this program was the perfect way to answer the questions ‘what is it about me specifically as a performer that I bring to teaching and the way that I teach, or that I want to teach’?” Rachel said.
Almost three hundred educators, artists and arts activists converged on the Lincoln Center in the three streams Emerging Teaching Artists, Defining Your Practice and Leadership Lab.
‘The Lincoln Center has been like the flagship for teaching artistry for almost 40 years and it was amazing to join with teaching artists from across different disciplines and from the US as well as South Africa and the UK,’ Rachel said.
‘There are lots of different entry points to becoming a teaching artist. Some are artists subsidising their income by being a teacher, and what they are doing as artists might be community building or arts integration which is the type of work I do with Sydney Theatre Company,’ she added.
Rachel said this reflected the many different threads and how people are embedding the arts into workshops and teaching or integrating their work into areas such as health and ageing including working with people with dementia.
She said what she learnt during her time in New York is in two parts.
‘Firstly, there is what I learnt about the fusion of my own artistry and teaching practice, and also all of the connections I made while I was there.
‘Secondly, seeing shows on Broadway and meeting with artists who work in companies who I’ve really admired from a distance – that was very galvanising. But it was the opportunity to experience immersive theatre which is a deep love of mine and you can only experience it by being there.
‘I love rigorous text-based theatre, for example, The Rabbit Hole; I can read the words and hear them in my head, but you can’t read immersive work. You have to go and that’s why I was so keen to go to New York – even if it meant putting the kitchen renovation off for a while longer.’
Punchdrunk’s production, Sleep No More is a site-specific telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, performed in rooms of the McKittrick Hotel. Audiences (wearing white masks) join the actors (in black masks) in a choose your own adventure experience.
‘This is the type of work I want to make. We have dabbled here with Alyson Evans’ work to bring local audiences that experience in Hidden Cinema, and I did some immersive style theatre when I was at Scots, but seeing it on the big scale reinforced that yes, that is what I was trying to do,’ Rachel said.
Rachel said the New York experience also illuminated for her that the work she loves to do is community-based, and that her work as an artist and as a teacher is about imagination and connection together.
‘That manifests in community building be it in or outside institutions and I know I will use this as a guide for the projects that I do,’ she said.
Back in Albury Rachel has returned to her work with the School Drama™ program at the Flexible Learning Centre, Mitta and Bethanga Primary schools, and she is preparing to return to the stage in a production of The Rabbit Hole in November as well as a production in Wangaratta next year.
‘We’ve also received funding to do the creative development on an immersive children’s work based on the story of the Uiver, so, even with the kitchen reno on hold, there are a few pots on the bubble.’