Perspectives

Faculty Spotlight: Tessa Carr, Department of Theatre

Tessa Carr

Assistant professor in the Department of Theatre
College of Liberal Arts

 

Tessa Carr

Dr. Tessa Carr teaches in the Department of Theatre in the College of Liberal Arts. She is the artistic director for the Mosaic Theatre Company and says her position here is her dream job because it combines engaged community-based theatre work, and brought her back home. Carr recently received a Competitive Outreach Scholarship Grant that allowed Mosaic Theatre Company to travel to three Alabama communities: Anniston, Chatom and Collinsville. In those communities, students performed about issues of diversity and they facilitated workshops with community participants of all ages. She says it was an incredible experience for the company members, and that they have received wonderful feedback from their community partners. Carr hopes to do more touring in the future to continue to spread the word about Auburn's commitment to honoring and celebrating diversity.

1. Would you please tell us about yourself?

I am originally from LaGrange, Georgia, but I moved away from the area to complete my undergraduate degree and did not return as a resident until I began working here at Auburn three years ago. I teach directing, script analysis and several different iterations of Introduction to Theatre for majors and non-majors. I also direct in the regular mainstage season of AU Theatre productions. I came to Auburn because the position that was advertised was quite simply my dream job, and, as a bonus, I could return to my formative home place to do engaged community-based theatre work.

2. How did you become interested in theatre?

I've always loved live performance, be it theatre or music, but I did not really find my passion for theatre until I began to see the medium's possibilities as a substantive means of engaging difficult conversations in communities. This happened during my graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. There, I learned how to take this creative and fun medium and get folks up on their feet and talking about issues and ideas that mattered to communities. This form of theatre – applied theatre – was a revelation. I began to make my own performance art work, usually investigating issues of gender and class identity, and I began working with artists who were engaging in all sorts of social justice and diversity topics. During my early teaching career at a private liberal arts college in North Carolina, I experimented with guiding an ensemble of students who wanted to investigate questions of identity. It was an empowering experience for all involved, and I knew that I had found my research niche in the discipline.

3. What has been the most rewarding/enjoyable part of your position here?

I honestly enjoy all parts of my job, but I love working with Auburn students. The students in the Department of Theatre and the students who are in Mosaic – who come from majors all over campus – are committed and passionate about using the arts to make a positive difference in the world. Every day that I come to work, they inspire me to do my best. Their thoughtful questions push me to strive for excellence as a teacher and my work with them has yielded rich material for creative scholarship.

4. The Mosaic Theatre Company creates their own original works and is asked to perform at many diverse functions. How does the group come up with their performances?

Auburn has much to be proud of in its support of Mosaic Theatre Company. The company, sponsored by the dean's office in the College of Liberal Arts and the Department of Theatre, is palpable evidence of Auburn's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our mission is to create original work that focuses on issues of diversity and social justice. Nearly all the work begins with the student company members. They decide what issues warrant immediate attention, and together we brainstorm about the issues they have chosen. From there, we might do issues based on research, personal narrative writing, physical theatre activities or more traditional playwriting exercises to begin to devise content. I believe in allowing the content of the message strong sway in helping us discover the right form for each piece. There is no one way that we make work, but we rely heavily on techniques from Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed work, as well as improvisational performance practices. When we are asked to introduce special guests or create scripts for a specific class or forum, we often add into our process the performance of fiction, poetry or non-fiction. My background is in performance studies and I love incorporating performance art, as well as the performance of texts not originally written for performance.

5. You are working on the script for "The Integration of Tuskegee High School: Lee V. Macon County Board of Education," and there will be a special performance for many of the folks who were integral in this landmark case, including Anthony Lee. How did this special performance come about and how do you feel about them being there to witness the performance?

This entire project comes out of a wonderful collaboration with Dr. Mark Wilson and the support of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities. Dr. Wilson and his students, as well as Dr. Robin Sabino from the Africana Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts, conducted interviews with students and community members who lived through the desegregation of Tuskegee Public High School. These interviews were collected in 2013 at the time of the 50th anniversary of the desegregation. This landmark case, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, became the precedent for the desegregation of all public schools in Alabama. During my second year at Auburn, Dr. Wilson asked me to take a look at the transcripts from a great many interviews and see if I thought there might be the possibility of a performance within the material. As I read through and listened to the interviews that summer, I was struck by the extraordinary difference in the experiences of the Caucasian and African American students involved in the events. The purpose of the initial performance was to put those voices in conversation – voices that had never had the opportunity to be in conversation before. We performed a shorter, reader's theatre style performance at the First United Methodist Church in Tuskegee in November 2014 and had many of the interviewees present then. It was the most powerful evening of performance that I have ever had the opportunity to witness. Fast forward to now and the script has been transformed with the addition of newspaper reports from the era and with the voice of Attorney Fred Gray as a guiding narrator. Gray's voice comes directly from his autobiography, "Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Gray," which we were fortunate enough to get the rights to include in the performance text.

We decided to have a special matinee so that we could again gather together the folks who lived through these events and were willing to share their stories with us. Having the participants witness the performance is part of the ethics of doing community based work. We are responsible to the people whose voices we portray, so while it can be a bit nerve-wracking, it is an integral part of learning to work responsibly in communities. I am absolutely thrilled that members of the Tuskegee community of 1963 will be attending the performance.

 

Last Updated: February 06, 2017