Theatre Director, LaVilla School of the Arts
You have a long tenure at LaVilla School of the Arts. Do you see any trends in performing arts education? Are students coming in with ideas from pop culture?
Yes. Too many. Today, students are on the forefront of technology. While they have access to many performance examples, it is difficult to teach them how to decipher what is good practice from popular play, lacking a
subsistence base. I call this the pains-to-progress practice. Therefore, I am constantly going back to old school teachings like you would discover in an acting workshop model. The objective now is to help young artists quiet their surroundings, stay in the moment, and push through the imprinted social media stories and fanfare so they may discover their voice, perspective, rhythm, and style. Theatre, like life, is best taught through a messy and authentic process. When you take a shortcut in either realm, it results in shallow human beings and actors disconnected with character, story, and their audience.
How did you become a performing artist?
In kindergarten, I was cast as the host of a mock Good Citizen pageant at Ruth N. Upson Elementary. At such a young age, it was a true moment of clarity. I was in control. I had the power to change the tempo, meanings of words, presentation style, and hints of humor. I also loved the thrill of the mistake. Some seek their thrills by jumping from planes; I got my kicks by always being ready for the unexpected. Accidents are gifts when performing if you truly embrace the unexpected, stay committed to the objectives, and are willing to fail. From that moment to this day, I continue to perform in all facets and do anything and everything I can to grow and feel alive.
Can you tell us a bit about your “Shortened Story Saturday” pieces?
I’m sure everyone has crazy experiences, but I feel I’ve had more than the average bear. I mean how many people have been booed by hundreds of peers during a homecoming pep rally in high school, scolded by a fading movie star in Los Angeles, robbed by Russians on the Sunset Strip, or mistakenly called a thief by John Lithgow in Griffith Park? I tell these stories and others to family and friends all the time. My mom has said for years, “Amber, you should write them down.”
I recently reached an age where my memories are losing their luster and accuracy. This forced me to try my hand at writing. I was curious if the written versions would resonate with an audience, so I released shortened versions of them on social media. It’s been eye-opening. More will be out in the summer. Some might even turn into short films.
Do you have a personal favorite play or other work of art?
Not really. My friends labeled me the most “un-theatre-y, theatre person” they know. It’s not because I don’t love theatre. I do. But when I’m not acting, teaching, directing, or producing I want to disconnect and go to a Luke Combs concert, see an Alvin Ailey performance, or watch a Nate Bargatze comedy show.
What do you think is the key to forming relationships with students?
They must believe the following: You are fair, honest, and transparent. You are interested in them. You can accept and apologize for your own mistakes as well as forgive their mistakes and move forward.
Are you currently acting in any productions?
I have some works on the burner with regards to producing shows and being a presenter in upcoming regional and national conferences, but I’m not currently in any productions.
What do you love about Jacksonville?
Jacksonville has boundless potential. I feel like I can make a big difference here and am able to find the network and support needed to do so. Also, I love the people. What a talented bunch of artists, intellects, activists, businesspeople, and audience members. I feel like when you are in Jacksonville it doesn’t matter your political affiliation. The community rallies around you, their fellow Jacksonvillian, which means the world to me as a person and an artist.