“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable” is my challenge to students because theatre, like life, is full of uncomfortable moments.

Adelphi has grown and changed quite a bit since I was an eager undergraduate theatre major. No longer do we perform shows in the stairwell of Olmsted Theatre or in a classroom above Post Hall cafeteria.

We have the beautiful, state-of-the-art Adelphi University Performing Arts Center. Yet, in my 25 years of association with the Adelphi Department of Theatre, some things have remained constant, such as the dedication to helping students discover and hone their unique voices. As a professor, I encourage my students to find their artistic voices or their callings by breaking out of their comfort zones. Initially, students want to be actors or technicians because they know these roles from prior experience, and familiar pursuits are comfortable ones. The exploration of things that are unknown, whether they are courses, exercises, study abroad, community outreach or the investment in a difficult moment is where we grow as artists and individuals. After such new experiences, students make more informed choices. A student who intended to be an actor may choose to be a director, designer, playwright, stage manager, producer or teacher, among other wonderful pursuits.

Maggie Lally ’82 with acting students.

“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable” is my challenge to students because theatre, like life, is full of uncomfortable moments—moments that need to be experienced and embraced for an actor to have any effect. I urge my students to explore what makes them uncomfortable. Sometimes it is eye contact, or a connection to their body or their instinct. Often, what makes young actors uncomfortable is vulnerability. They feel naked with their clothes on. These moments have had a stirring impact in the classroom. One actor’s vulnerability revealed becomes a moment of grace seen by others. Actors soon understand that vulnerability is a priceless commodity. Comfort is overrated. Curiosity is essential.

When my students wonder if they will ever be successful, or they question the relevance of a life in the arts, I remind them of Bertolt Brecht’s charge to artists: “Seek nothing less than to change the world.” Many of them take up this challenge. They explore and uncover their passions and follow them in a way that connects them to a larger community.

Many of my students are actively involved in efforts related to social awareness and issues of peace and justice. Theatre students have created and performed original theatre pieces to honor female Nobel Prize winners and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. They have created guerilla theatre pieces encouraging students to vote. Students have developed original pieces about women being sold into slavery around the world (and in this country), urgent global labor issues, LGBT issues, eating disorders, identity issues and current politics. Even after graduation, some students continue to create art around these themes in professional theatrical venues, in classrooms, on street corners and in refugee camps around the world. These artists are making a difference by sharing their passion.

They are my heroes.

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Spring 2012 edition.

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