The Alumni Spotlight Series introduces you to Emerson grads who are following their passions, changing the world, and making waves in their industries. Want to be featured? Email us!
Tara Brooke Watkins
Theatre Education (MA) 2013
I am a theatre teacher, director and playwright who focuses on theatre for social justice. I currently teach at Eastern Nazarene College where I have just launched a theatre for social justice program. Trained under Robbie McCauley, I use story circles to engage with communities about difficult topics, respond with applied theatre techniques, and create plays about their stories and the history the community is dealing with.
Describe your career path since graduation.
Since graduating from Emerson, I was accepted to the PhD program in Drama and Dance at Tufts University, where I am currently ABD. In 2014 I created the play “The Bible Women’s Project” using story circle and applied theatre techniques. The play was an official selection for the New York International Fringe Festival in 2016 and is currently on tour. I recently wrote, directed and produced the play “Tulsa ’21: Black Wall Street” which is now beginning statewide school tour in Oklahoma. I came on full time at Eastern Nazarene College in 2016 after my Theatre for Social Justice major program was proposed and accepted. I look forward to the program’s official launch in the fall of 2018. I continue to run South Shore School of Theatre in Quincy, MA and am the president of Pariah Theatre Company.
Why did you choose to attend Emerson College?
Emerson had a theatre program that focused on both education and community engagement, both of which were important to me.
Tell us more about your Emerson experience.
I found my relationships with the grad faculty in the theatre department to be of utmost value. I was given opportunities to work with leading artists and scholars in their fields. First and foremost, my time with Robbie McCauley is invaluable. Her knowledge and experience with community engagement, her bravery in performing her own stories on stage, and her teaching model have become essential to my own growth as a theatre artist. I had the amazing chance to be her assistant director for the premiere of her one-woman show “Sugar,” an abridged version of which I later remounted for the 2016 AATE conference. Working alongside Robbie and her director Maureen Shea was a great learning experience. I was also privileged to learn under Magda Romanska. Her breadth of knowledge about theatre, dramaturgy, playwrights, and the application of the actor’s body on stage by directors is as deep as it is wide. Her teaching style inspired me to ask questions and dialogue about new ways of seeing plays. I found her one-on-one meeting accessibility to be vital in my process of becoming a better writer and scholar of theatre.
Describe Emerson in 3 words.
Creative, open, innovative.
Describe your most memorable experience with Emerson’s faculty.
When I was in Magda Romanska’s dramatic theory class, I was introduced to August Strindberg in a way that stimulated me to the point of wanting to read everything he had written. I was struck in my reading by “A Dream Play,” which led me to meet with her to figure out what in the world I should write about. She gave me a tool I have used ever since. She said “write down three topics that interest you and put them at three apexes, as if making a triangle. Now connect them to make a triangle and write down as many questions as you can that include relationships between those three ideas. After you’ve written down the questions, choose one you would like to answer. Your paper is now an exploration of that answer using your main source.” It was a conversation I will never forget because it opened up a whole new world of how to research and made tangible a daunting task. Professor Romanska was always available for conversations about how to write and research, and she was wonderful about providing helpful tips about both.
Tell us about a memorable project or internship you worked on as a student.
Maureen Shea was directing Robbie McCauley’s “Sugar,” and she asked if I would consider coming on board as the assistant director. I rearranged my entire schedule to get to work with Robbie. How many of us are given the opportunity to work with a legend in the field they’re studying? I leapt at the chance. In the first rehearsal I walked into, I was nervous, scared, and was not sure how I was supposed to be “in charge” of someone I admired so greatly. It was just me and Robbie, working on lines and blocking. Because I was not in my usual leadership role with the usual student I was directing, I did not fully know how to approach these rehearsals. In working with her in the classroom, I used her own technique — to listen and let the body speak. Rather than telling her what to do, when things weren’t working, I asked what she needed, asked what was happening that I needed to know, asked if she would share about the roadblocks in order to help her overcome them. By using the techniques this venerated professor was teaching me in class, I learned how to best guide the process and it changed everything about myself as a director, community activist, and human being. I consider Robbie a mentor as well as a friend today. I still get together with her for breakfast any time I visit New York.
How did Emerson help you get to where you are today?
My life has been changed by story circles and devising theatre. Since I now do both with communities, I attribute this pathway to my time in Emerson’s classes. I think I can safely say that my artistic life can be divided between “before Robbie McCauley” and “after Robbie McCauley.” I now direct differently, listen differently, approach theatre differently, and have an entire focus in my life that is community engagement through theatre and story circles all because of Robbie.