Dr. Michelle Gibbs joins the School of Theatre Arts as their new head of the BA in Theatre Arts Program.
Photo Credit: Dr. Michelle Gibbs.
The Bachelors in Acting (BA) track at Illinois Wesleyan’s School of Theater Arts (SOTA) has a fresh face on the faculty roster this year. Dr. Michelle Gibbs joined SOTA as the department head of BA this year after leaving her previous institution, St. Olaf College, at the end of the last school year.
Gibbs has started the year off strong, according to students.
“Dr. Gibbs is amazing. She’s done a lot of work already to make us feel more comfortable,” junior BA student Alexis Ries said.
Gibbs left St. Olaf after penning a letter to faculty of the school and resigning. The letter detailing the reasons why she was leaving and referencing the work needing to be done about racism on the campus.
In the letter, Gibbs cited the “white rage” she feared from her white students and fellow faculty members. She also mentioned in the letter that she felt her differences as a Black female educator were seen as a hindrance at St. Olaf College rather than a gift.
She then encouraged her fellow faculty to work towards active anti-racism, noting that it was “hard and uncomfortable” work but that it “must be done.”
Her transition to IWU from St. Olaf has been easy, according to Gibbs. She found that the student interest in theater was very similar to her last school, but here she thinks that the curriculum supports what students want to do and can do with their majors a bit more.
“It’s really exciting to see students who you really can say, ‘Yes, you can do that. It’s possible.’ And that’s a really welcome change,” Gibbs said.
She also enjoys IWU’s trademark small classes. She has noticed that there is a better opportunity to build relationships with students, even if it is in the time of COVID.
“I’m on the BA track but I’m also an Elementary Education major with a dance minor. We’ve already discussed how I can combine those things within the track which is great,” Ries said.
Gibbs joined the faculty after noticing a close bond between existing faculty and students in the department.
“There’s just a lot of communication between the faculty members in SOTA and that was just really inspiring. I wanted to be part of a faculty, a community, that cares deeply about each other,” Gibbs said.
As she begins to get comfortable in her new role, Gibbs plans to slowly discuss and implement changes she thinks are pivotal to SOTA and the University’s success. There are some, however, that she wants to get started on soon.
The School of Theatre Arts performed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in the spring of 2019.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan School of Theatre Arts
“Some things that are really important to me are how we go about having conversations about centering marginalized students and voices that are in our theater community,” Gibbs said.
She wants to focus on not just serving students of color but making their experiences centered to how SOTA makes theater. This comes in the form of, according to Gibbs, not just doing Black plays to hit a “quota”.
“I’d like to have a more thorough conversation about how we teach our classes, what classes we teach, how we choose productions and how we see and hear Black and brown voices in theater,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs is looking forward in a long-term way as well. She wants to ask students to see themselves as part of a global society. One of her goals on that front is that, in ten years, that a third of the population in SOTA is international students.
“That’s making a direct effort to acknowledge that global experiences matter,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that she is looking forward to the opportunities she’ll have at Illinois Wesleyan— that she’ll get to have important conversations with students and be a part of the SOTA community. She is also participating in two current research projects at IWU that are located in Black performance theory, African diasporic performance studies, and dance criticism.