I believe that in order for a student to reach their full potential, a well-rounded education based in experiential learning is essential. The arts and humanities provide students with the tools to analyze past events and apply their lessons to our collective future. I’ve found that the strategies I’ve used to create complex characters and tell meaningful stories on stage and screen are applicable to all disciplines. I require my students to challenge their own pre conceived notions in order to (quite literally) walk in someone else’s shoes.
Over the centuries, the theater has been a powerful force not just for artistic empowerment, but also as a means of social justice. The Ancient Greeks used performance to address the sociopolitical issues of the time. Shakespeare encouraged us to make theater that holds a mirror up to nature. And now, there is a growing need in the theater to expand further and incorporate even more voices and historical perspectives into our public discourse. With this in mind, the theater has an advantage over other art forms because it gives us something that they simply cannot: a visceral experience of our humanity in real time in the presence of others. My students, particularly adolescents, have the opportunity for the first time to do history, to feel the complexity of our shared knowledge. This can only serve to deepen a student’s understanding of the world, and ultimately gives them additional equipment to be thoughtful and informed members of society.
As a professional actor, my experience is not solely academic, but grounded in the context of current artistic practices. As a consequence, I believe in teaching a wide range of theatrical styles and texts, from classical to contemporary and popular to experimental, alongside their historical context. In my classroom, students feel safe to take risks, and I encourage collaboration and discovery. My students start out practicing the fundamentals of acting through scene work, voice, and improvisation. As they develop their craft, we move on to devised work and full-scale productions. We learn about our artistic lineage, and ultimately forge ahead to create our own. They learn by watching and by doing.
However, their education doesn’t stop there. When I was a student, some of the most influential conversations I had with educators was outside the classroom. I take pride in mentoring my students, introducing them to new and different perspectives, and listening to and learning from them.
On a more personal note, I know students of all races benefit from having teachers of color. I have experienced the full gamut of educational institutions, from the inner-city public school to the hyper elite boarding school and ivy league university. This deepens my understanding of the importance of representation in mentorship, and the challenges that lower income students face. My background as an African American, biracial son of a single mom motivates me to make a classroom that doesn’t assume a student’s resources and allows me to meet them where they are. It motivates me to be inclusive in what I teach and think critically as to how I teach it. Teachers matter more than ever, and it is on all of us to do whatever we can to ensure that these future trailblazers are given the skills to lead with honor.
Bari is a dynamic, multi-faceted, and exceptionally talented educator. I have known him for nearly 20 years--first when he was a student, athlete, and a prefect in my dorm at St. Pauls School (NH). We have remained in regular contact since his graduation. Bari has worked with all ages in a teaching capacity, and of course, he brings a wealth of professional acting and directing experience with him into the teaching field. He is a wonderfully kind and compassionate person who is sensitive to the student experience. He works well under pressure, thinks very quickly on his feet, and reads people exceptionally well. I'm thrilled he wants to pursue teaching full time! He is eager to get involved in the lives of students in a variety of ways--teaching, advising, coaching (great high jumper and wrestler at St. Pauls and Bowdoin), and club advisor!
- John Rocklin, Teacher, St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Austin, TX