Margaret Wilkerson talked about her new role on campus, and the goals for the new center.
Q: Why was the center established?
A: In addition to higher education losing public funding and reallocating its resources, there is another problem with theater arts on college campuses which I addressed years ago in a conference paper. I looked at the numbers of faculty in the theater arts professoriate and found that group to be one of the oldest among all other faculty. I said that as they retired, administrators would review these FTE's and the theater arts programs to which they were attached.
A number of universities have chosen to revitalize their theater arts programs and become more responsive to the emerging needs of students. One of our main goals is to recapture the original passion and importance of theater as an integral part of liberal education.
In Sweden, teachers have to learn how to use dramatic arts in working with kids. They recognize the centrality of dramatic arts and its use of discipline and rigor. I see the center as a moment of opportunity to reaffirm our original commitment for the theater arts, and reconfirm its role in an educational setting.
Q: What makes the center unique?
A: First and foremost, the center is part of one of the premiere public universities of the world. Because we are at Berkeley, we have a tradition of excellence and a mandate to serve the state and world community. The center will take a major part of its agenda from the civic role the university has played.
Also, through theater arts and dance we can reflect the multicultural nature of our state and the world. We can draw from many traditions at Berkeley because of our uniquely diverse campus community. In order to achieve our goals, we are creating a cross-disciplinary structure that engages faculty and students from various disciplines.
Q: How would a student in, say, physics, connect with theater and dance?
A: There are many connections between science and art. We share the same sense of wonder and curiosity. Both areas share rigorous discipline and training. We also have important ties to social sciences, economics and more. Through the center, we will be able to make those kinds of broad connections.
I'd like the symposium concept to become an integral part of what the center does. We plan to offer more symposia and forums associated with our productions that demonstrate the interconnectedness of theater arts, dance and other areas, for example theater and liberation movements.
Q: Like Teatro Campesino and the farm worker struggle?
A: Exactly. This state has a rich history of the use of theater in social and political change.
Q: Much about the center has been written and talked about in terms of theater arts. What about dance? What is its interdisciplinary appeal?
A: Dance is particularly important in higher education because not only is it a classical form of artistic expression, but it also provides students with another language. It is a unique aspect of communication. In certain cultures, movement and gesture is more important than words. We need to understand, appreciate and involve our students in different forms of communication in order to be part of the world community.
Q: How will the center make use of professional performers?
A: We have an excellent program of activities with Cal Performances. There are many creative ways to collaborate with these professional groups in the instruction of our students. We already have Margaret Jenkins and her dance company developing a piece with our students.
Q: Why did you accept the director position?
A: Theater has always been at the center of my being. It's a field I chose because I care deeply about theater arts and its potential for changing people. I've been teaching at Berkeley for 29 years, and have watched the campus change and become more diverse. Throughout my tenure, I've tried to help students connect with theater. I've seen the effect exposure to good theater can have and the blossoming of students through the rigors of stage production. When I was offered the opportunity to help establish a new center that would take its mandate from the university's--excellence and diversity--I thought, "What a wonderful opportunity."
Q: What would be one of your personal goals for the center?
A: Part of our goal is to do more outreach both on campus and in the community. We also have the opportunity to work with students from K through 12. My wish is that we can connect with young people and show them what the arts can mean to them. I want them to appreciate why the arts can help us re-imagine our world. God knows we need that.