Innovative Pedagogy Interview Series

A conversation with Associate Professor of Theatre, Evelyn Díaz Cruz

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Professor Cruz recently applied and was accepted to participate in the Linda Vista Impact Initiative. The initiative is a collaborative course program sponsored by the USD Changemaker HUB, the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action, and partners within the Linda Vista Community. Next spring, Evelyn will be integrating the initiative into her Theatre and Community (THEA 365 C/D) course. Her course will be collaborating with Linda Vista’s Mark Twain Alternative School.

Thank you for joining me today, Professor Cruz. Congratulations for being selected to participate in the Linda Vista Impact Initiative during the spring 2016 semester! Before we get into some of the initiatives details, would you mind sharing with the readers and me some information about yourself? How long have you been teaching at USD, where did you receive your education, which classes do you teach, and what are some of your general interests in teaching and in research?

I have been teaching at USD for 12 years.  I earned a terminal degree in playwriting from U.C.L.A. and my undergraduate degree in Theatre at S.D.S.U.  I have taught here at USD Playwriting, Acting I, Theatre and Society, Contemporary Theatre and Theatre and Community.

In the most general sense I am interested in sparking students’ intellectual curiosity.  My hope is to get students thinking about the world around them and really seeing what is happening right now at this moment in time and becoming engaged citizens on issues of social justice. 

What influences in your life drew you to theatre?

I grew up in the Bronx and there was a lot of art going on.  Salsa and Hip-Hop are widely regarded as having both started in the Bronx.  It may have been happening in other areas, but not to the extent it was happening there and many of the legendary artists were living there.   With the coming of every summer, you could feel this vibe in the air.  I loved how as soon as the weather changed, the congas came out and entire neighborhoods came together to sing, dance, and perform.  It was intoxicating to be in that energy!  As an adult, I met a group of women who were doing hard-hitting political street theatre. I was impressed with their dedication to educating on issues of importance to the community.  Seeing how they provided a venue for activism that was also entertaining was enlightening for me.  After performing with them a few times I was hooked!  I found my voice with Teatro Raices (Roots Theatre), which was an all-women’s Latina agitprop street theatre group.

You have won many teaching awards for the way you include innovative pedagogy in your courses and for the impact you have with these courses in the community. What’s your philosophy on teaching and how do you think your teaching is innovative and differs from others, and subsequently, why is it so effective?

My courses offer students the rare opportunity to embody the physical as well as the statistical experience of the “other.”  I am excited to think that every time I work on a production, my students will have to conduct all the research required to bring the work and characters to life.  For example, it is inspiring to think that a student working on the play, Zoot Suit, must have an understanding of the Pachuco, Chicana/o culture, the judicial system, racism, culture and classism in order to ensure a more powerful performance.  Theatre is the practical as well as the emotional tool for educating the whole person.  An education in theatre offers unparalleled opportunities for genuine empathy of another human.  I approach my classroom as a holistic approach for life in the hopes of sparking in my students a lifelong passion for learning.

How did you hear about the Linda Vista initiative and what drew you to apply and participate?

I have a long history of working with CASA and have come to rely on them for community partnership building.  I had been thinking about revamping my Theatre and Community class for some years now.  Typically USD students are overwhelmingly the main writers, performers and stagers of the community stories for the final night of one-acts.  When I heard about the ILVI and the support for creating a unique partnership with Mark Twain, I knew this was not just the perfect opportunity but also the perfect fit.  Next semester we will be hosting Mark Twain students in my classes and vis-a-versa.  The final performance will be much more of a collaboration. 

The initiative’s description states “…This community-collaborative learning program directly impacts Linda Vista residents while building a committed student body prepared to make change in very personal and effective ways.” Could you elaborate on what you hope the students from Mark Twain will gain from this collaborative and immersive experience?

I want the Mark Twain students to sit in on my class and participate as thoroughly as my USD students.  Everything I mentioned before about theatre’s power to entertain and educate as well as the holistic aspect of a theatre education is what I hope to instill in the Mark Twain students.  It is that spark that will hopefully ignite creative passion for further civic engagement and spur intellectual curiosity.  

What are the goals of your course, and how do you teach to these goals?

Students in this course will gain skills in the creation and staging of theatre for consciousness-raising by performing and manufacturing pieces of theatre that are for specific communities and their concerns. My class engages in a lot of contemplative exercises both physical and mental.  Theatre games and journal reflections are an integral part of my pedagogy as is class discussion and the workshopping of their new work.  Much attention and guidance is provided to ensure that the work is culturally sensitive and ethical in its practice. 

How will you adopt your pedagogy to fulfill both the outcomes of the course and of the initiative?

I think we are a perfect fit.  I won’t have to change my pedagogy.  I will be treating the Mark Twain students as I treat USD students.  Of course, it will be a challenge but I am excited by the challenge! 

What do you hope that your students will take away from their time at USD and their involvement in your courses?

A sense of social responsibility, an artistic vision, a sincere appreciation for cultural diversity and a lifelong commitment for learning.

As a former and most grateful student of yours, I have experienced many of the ways you effectively integrate contemplative practices into your teaching. For my final question, I want to reciprocate the experience and ask you to reflectively contemplate on yourself. What do you personally hope to achieve within yourself from this teaching experience and from your work at USD and in the community?

My main objective is to provide a safe space for the two communities of Mark Twain and USD to be truly seen with authenticity.  I also enjoy the rich experience of dispelling stereotypes and facilitating creativity that will bring good people together.  I also want us to have a good time while doing it.

Thank you for your time and for this wonderful conversation. Cheers to your success and best of luck to you, your students, and the students of Mark Twain next semester!

-Johnny Bobé II

Do you use an innovative pedagogy in the classroom or practice the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)? If you would like your work highlighted on our website and in the next issue of the CEE newsletter, contact CEE Director, Dr. Sandra Sgoutas-Emch (emch@sandiego.edu ), with your ideas today!

Helpful Links:

Impact Linda Vista Initiative 

USD Changemaker HUB

Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action