By Jennifer Tuttle
Some of you might have noticed the “A Theatre Teacher Changed My Life” meme that was popular on Facebook this past week. I first saw it on the page of a Theatre Teacher of mine, Nancy Lipschultz. On the post, Nancy wrote: “ I have been influenced by every wonderful student I've had the privilege of teaching. Many of them are now teachers themselves. Represent you excellent ones.” She listed 13 of us who have gone on to teach – what a legacy!
Nancy arrived my second year of graduate studies, at a very pivotal time in my process, and she changed the trajectory of my career, not only as a performer, but also as a theatre artist at large. I was good at dialect work, and she allowed me to assist her in coaching several productions, and in my third year of grad school, she assigned me as the dialect coach for our production of “Great Expectations.” A whole new skill set opened up to me, and her belief that I could do it gave me great confidence in my abilities to coach.
After I graduated Nancy and I kept in touch, and I was always able to ask her for career advice. When I began to think about teaching, she helped me put together a professional CV (believe me, no one should ever have to do that without guidance!), was an excellent reference when I applied for jobs, and gave me advice on how to create curriculum, syllabi and how to lesson plan once I began teaching. In short, she’s exactly the kind of person anyone would dream of having as a mentor. And here she was, posting about how WE, her students, influenced her. Huh. It got me thinking…
As I look through the applications submitted in our first few weeks of the Statera Mentorship Program, I am often surprised. I start to read a mentee application and think, “Surely this person filled out the wrong form. This person is excellent mentor material!” It’s clear that no matter where we are in our careers, we still have room to grow, and have a desire to seek out someone who has been there and done that and will lend a sympathetic ear and offer some wisdom. But I’d like to turn that paradigm on its head. No matter where you are in your career, YOU have experience and wisdom to share!
I received an application to be a mentor from a younger (late 20’s) woman whom I had been in a production of “A Christmas Carol” with over 10 years ago. Imagine my shock and delight to see her name! My next thought was, “Huh, she’s applying to be a mentor and not a mentee…” Then I checked out her website, and there was her adult face staring back at me. And there were her professional credits as an actor, director and teacher and I thought, “Yep. She’s totally going to be a great mentor.” I’m sure many of us think a mentor needs to be mid-career or further in their life/career journey, but many mentees are looking for someone just a few steps ahead that can be a helping hand. And many of us undersell our value and think "I can't mentor, what do I know?" and the answer to that is "More than you think you do!"
As we continue to grow and shape the Mentorship Program, I am thrilled with the initial response to the program. It’s been so positive and we’ve received a lot of applications. I want to encourage all of you to think about applying – as a mentor! Or as BOTH a mentee AND a mentor! Either way, there is opportunity for growth, learning and support. And you might just find that in clarifying what you know and articulating it to someone else, that not only will you be a mentor to your mentee, but you can become a mentor to yourself. Hope your 2016 is off to a productive, creative, balanced beginning!