All the World's a Stage, Even the Classroom
Being in front of a class full of high schoolers. Being in the spotlight on stage. For Allison Witham (BA ‘10, MEd ‘11), it’s all in a day’s work.
A theatre arts and English literature double-major, Witham left her native Chicago suburb for the University of Minnesota knowing that her strength was in “getting in front of people, talking, and sharing information.”
Her majors complemented each other, she says, both emphasizing the importance of putting yourself out there. “It’s led me as an actor to just try things. If I can’t book a role or if I’m getting bored, to just bring something new to the table,” she says. “Be fearless. Make big failures. Push yourself. Really find what works for you.”
Today, she’s an actor, author, and teacher, focused on sharing her passions with both individuals and the community at large.
In the Classroom
After graduating from the College of Liberal Arts, Witham went on get a MEd in English education, also from the U, and began teaching English in the Partnership Program at South High School in Minneapolis. The program is unique to the school and offers support to students who have struggled to succeed.
Through this program, which she’s been with for five years now, Witham says she is able to connect and individually support each student in her classroom. She works hard to keep her students engaged—not easy, she says, when it’s so much easier for students to close themselves off to the world and stare at a screen.
Not surprisingly, her theatre training comes in handy. She stresses that “theatre makes me a more engaging teacher, and teaching makes me a more thoughtful actor.”
“I want my students to work hard for what they can achieve,” she says. “I want each one of them to walk away with a sense of passion, a cellar of creativity to tap into, and a voice in the world.”
Witham also teaches acting for students ranging from pre-teen to professional adults through various organizations, including Stages, Minneapolis Public Schools, and The Guthrie.
Remarkably, amid the pressures of being a high school teacher, Witham has also found the time to be an active member of the Twin Cities theatre community. She is a company member of Savage Umbrella, frequent collaborator with Jon Ferguson and his various theatre projects, sits on the board of Theatre Novi Most, and has worked with Black Label Movement, Live Action Set, Jon Ferguson Theater, Freshwater Theatre, and 20% Theatre's writer's cabaret. Most recently, her piece "Elegant Carnage" was published in Freshwater Theatre's Dirty Girls Come Clean anthology.
She is also a founding member and current core ensemble member of Transatlantic Love Affair, a theatre ensemble that specializes in collaborative work, which uses the human body as a theatrical instrument. This means the actor’s bodies are used for everything; there are no sets or props. There is lighting and often live music, but when the performance calls for a desk, a human turns into a desk.
Her theatrical work focuses on collaboration, says Witham. “The idea that a group is really working together as a unit to craft the show.” The combination of ideas, she says, allows for a “unique take on theatre.”
And once again, her worlds mix as she encourages her students to go out and see the theatre. “I tell them, ‘go to a pay-what-you-can night, if you aren’t sure you’re going to like it.’ Just go out and see something, even if you hate [it], because then you can talk about it with someone else,” she says.
“Immersing and engaging yourself in the community is what sparks our imaginations. It’s about expanding our minds and giving ourselves a small but mighty voice in the world, and that is what ultimately drives the change and innovation we want to surround ourselves with.”