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Bethany Nelson

Bethany Nelson (PhD Arts Education 2007-11) is Senior Theatre-educator-in-Residence and Area Head of Undergraduate Theatre Education at Emerson College in Boston, Massachussetts. Her work focuses on playmaking and the ways in which theatre can help at-risk urban youth.
You can read more about Bethany's work in this article from the Boston Globe.
  Bethany Nelson

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How did you go from Warwick to theatre educator-in-residence in Emerson College?
Actually, I had worked at Emerson on and off for a number of years before pursuing my PhD at Warwick. Then I took the job of Head of School, K-8, at a small, alternative school focused on Multiple Intelligences Theory for four years. When I realized that I wanted to return to higher education teaching, I felt that a PhD would be a big help—and it was. Now I’m Senior Theatre-educator-in-Residence and Area Head of Undergraduate Theatre Education at Emerson.

How does your time at Warwick help you in your career?
The research I did at Warwick, looking at the impact of process drama and playmaking on urban students of colour, and the guidance I received from my advisor, Jonothan Neelands, in creating a theoretical foundation for understanding the outcomes of that research, changed my professional life. My teaching in the graduate and undergraduate Theatre Education programs at Emerson is strongly shaped by what I learned, and my current work in playmaking with urban students is a direct result of the power of that experience, for the students and for me.

What are the most challenging parts of your work?
Getting up on Saturday morning to go in to work and do playmaking with two groups of urban kids for five hours is actually quite difficult. I question my sanity every week. But at the end of the day, I feel refreshed and alive. And I feel like I know what I did with my day. I feel its value, to the kids and to me.

What drives you?
I want to change the world, particularly the inequitable outcomes for young people of color who are often failed by US schools. I think everyone has something they want to change, and this is the wheel to which I put my shoulder. If I had political skills, I might run for office, but I don’t. But I understand theatre as a powerful tool for helping young people understand the societal dynamics that shape their lives and constrain their futures, and I’ve seen the impact on audiences when they see performances of students’ original work.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
Nine hours of sleep a night

What was your favourite aspect of the Arts Education course?
Jonothan Neelands. He is an expert in the field of arts education, and he is both a scholar and an artist. His breadth of knowledge, about theatre/drama and philosophy, were central to my learning. I’ll always be grateful for that.

What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Warwick?
Do it. It was the best educational experience of my life.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time as a student?
I wish I’d done it 10 years earlier. But things have a way of working out the way they work out.

How do you balance work and life?
It’s a challenge; I work a lot. My partner, Hessel, works at home, and that takes a big load off of my shoulders. Three of our four children are grown, but the 12 year old is still at home. A few months ago, she told me, “I don’t want to make you feel badly, but I need you to be home more. It’s great to have brothers, but I need another woman around.” So now, when I can take time off, I spend it with her.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
I hope to have designed and funded a school for urban high school students in which the arts would be a central, organizing teaching modality. The school will be a research site for trying out emerging best practices in multicultural education (not unlike the Campus School at Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts). Further, it will be a 24/7 community school, in which the space is used for a variety of community uses during off-school hours.

What are your favourite memories of your years at Warwick?
Strangely enough, my favourite memory is the moment when I realized that the research I had intended to do was not the direction in which the students were headed. It made me reconsider what I thought I knew. And isn’t that what education is for?

Do you have any advice for new graduates?
Never turn away from a job you’re interested in just because you think you don’t have the skills. If you show up on time, pay attention, and learn fast, most places will let you learn as you go. And try not to take a job you don’t want just because you need the money. Life is too short to hate what you do.

Bethany Nelson: the facts
Age: 58
Lives: Topsfield, Massachusetts, USA

BS in Creative Drama/Theatre Education from Emerson College, MEd in Multicultural Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, PhD in Arts Education from Warwick.

Career: 17 years as a drama resource in suburban and urban public schools in the Greater Boston area, four years as the Head of School, K-8, at Sparhawk School, 17 years as an instructor/professor at Emerson College in Theatre Education, Department of Performing Arts, 25+ years as a grant-writer and consultant in multicultural education and drama in the Greater Boston area.
Interests: Spending time with my family on our sail boat and reading compulsively.