I was never taught by a Black instructor during my time in college and graduate school. A biracial child raised in a single parent household, I was the only person in my family to complete any higher education—and I learned quickly not to expect to see others like me leading classrooms. While my teachers were influential and compassionate, I brought lived experiences to the classroom that they couldn’t speak to. I didn’t realize the full significance of this until I began working in the professional world, where my race and skin color were central to my interactions with directors, casting directors, and agents—an entire reality my mentors were not privy to and thus could provide no guidance on.
As the civil rights protests of this spring swelled, a parallel reckoning began to take place in both professional and educational theater. I found myself searching for an authentic, sustainable role in the cause. I was struck by current students’ calls for more equitable and inclusive actor training, something that was off-limits to me as an aspiring actor. Since graduating from Columbia University, I had taught and offered private coaching periodically, often working with students from marginalized groups (pre-pandemic, I co-founded an English-as-a-Second-Language Shakespeare program for college-age students). Now, I felt that teaching was a calling that would allow me to empower the next generation of artists; that I can help facilitate the change I want to see in the profession.
From an earlier era, there was a philosophy that a student needed to be broken down and built back up in order to become a great artist. I feel this is a false premise. My students have all the ingredients needed to gain better mastery of their creative instruments. My job is to provide an environment for exploration and the structure to develop skills that support the actors’ ability to meet the demands of the text.
I believe the biggest pedagogical influences in my life (Kristin Linklater, Keith Johnstone, Stanislavsky, Christopher Bayes, Barry Edelstein) recognize this truth: that the teacher’s methods must be malleable enough to be shaped to the individual that we are teaching, and not the other way around. For example, when I talk about the voice to my students, I try to emphasize that the habits and tensions that they have developed in their voices are not necessarily deficiencies that they need to drop in their everyday life. There are many times when they need that armor to protect them from the outside world. However, when they are incorporating the backstory of a character in a play, they must be aware of these “structured systems of survival” (Stanley Kelleman), and learn when they should relinquish it for the sake of the character’s truth. In the case of the voice, exercises that attempt to balance our senses, imagination, and intellect are some of the tools I use to allow my students to become acquainted with the possibilities of their voices.
Finally, 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. 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