This week is Young Audiences’ week and to celebrate YA is asking folks to create a video/take a photo/write a few words on how the arts have impacted their life. I decided to write about a memorable artistic experience. The most important experience I’ve had with the arts so far in my life… Not many people know this but when I first went to college my plan was to major in finance. During high school my track was business management. I was a member of DECA, I was the manager of the school store, and I had an academic scholarship to the Black School of Business at Penn State Behrend. All roads pointed to becoming a financial planner. And then I took freshmen English for business majors…
The class was designed to teach students how to write academically through the eyes of a business professional. Every assignment was a case study we could potentially use for the future. Let me just say that I have never been good at academic writing. I got through high school English because of my grandmother. A former English teacher, there wasn’t a paper I’d turn in without her eyes seeing first!
The first assignment I got back from my professor at PSU, I’d never seen so much red on one piece of paper. It got worse from there! Paper after paper, marked up with notes too much sympathy, take out the emotion, get back to the numbers—I understood the importance of business but I wanted to write about the consumers and how this report would affect their lives. I lived in the writing center and hired a writing tutor to help me find my business tone. After the 4th bleeding paper returned, I made a meeting with my advisor. I remember her words until this day, “if you want to write about emotion, go be a social worker”. I was crushed! No disrespect to social workers but that’s not the life I had envisioned for myself. Since the age of 14 I had been on a path of finance… maybe I didn’t have what it took to make it in business. Bottom line, I didn’t want to waste my time (or money) at a college where I wouldn’t succeed. The freshman English course was the first of four course I would have had to pass in order to graduate with a degree in finance. So I came back Maryland and enrolled in a community college. I knew I wanted to go to college but I wasn’t sure what I should study. Every “introduction to” class offered, I took which led me to Professor Canaday’s introduction to academic writing.
After the experience I had at PSU, I didn’t want to go through failure again. The first paper I turned into Canaday was torture to write. I hired another tutor to look over my work and to help me organize my thoughts. Draft after draft, it still read too emotional. Not wanting to receive a zero, I turned the paper in but I knew it wasn’t what he wanted. The day he returned the graded papers, I was ready. I settled in myself that maybe college wasn’t the place for me if I couldn’t write a basic paper. He handed me my paper with a note at the top that read, “see me after class”. No red, just those words. I waited until everyone left and he ushered me into his office next door to the classroom.
“Let’s talk about this paper” and with those words I started to cry. I cried hard, I begged him to understand that I was trying to write the way he wanted me to write but I just couldn’t get it—academic writing had never been something I could do—that I was sorry for wasting his time—as I was gathering my things to leave, he shouts,
YOU WROTE A PLAY! It’s dialogue. The way you write, you write the way you speak…it’s hard to do. You write without a filter, and it’s good! You need to take my playwriting class!”
Forget writing a play, no one had ever told me that my writing was good. In that moment I was given a name for what I did… I enrolled in his playwriting course and the rest is history. I never received a paper with a red mark again! With Professor Canaday’s guidance, he showed me how to use my gifts and make them work within academia. When something is naturally in you, you can’t run from it. As much as you try to change and alter yourself, your core will find a way to come out. For so many years, I was trying to bend and mode my writing to fit the norm when I was actually doing something extraordinary!
Two years ago I graduated from Goucher College with a degree in theatre with a focus on playwriting. I have had 4 plays produced locally; two produced out of state (Atlanta and Minneapolis), and completed an internship with the Brighton Royal Theatre Festival in London. Currently, I’m a Fellow in the Urban Arts Leadership Program through the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and I work with Young Audiences of Maryland securing funding for rural schools to have access to arts integrated education.
I don’t like thinking about what could have happened if my path hadn’t crossed with Professor Canaday. But I know this to be true playwriting provided me a way of documenting the world around me that I never knew existed.
NOTE: Before meeting Canaday I had experiences with theatre. There are photos somewhere of my short lived acting career as a mad washing machine technician, Native American number 1 (Peter Pan), and town person number 3 (Christmas Carol).