When award-winning playwright and performer Caleen Sinnette Jennings says arts teachers at American University practice what they preach, she means it.
Her play Inns and Outs—nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play—earned her a $10,000 grant from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.
Playing Juliet/Casting Othello, also a MacArthur Award nominee, was produced at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Productions of The Dining Room and Rashomon won her the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Meritorious Achievement Award in Directing. And many of her plays have been published.
"Our students learn very early that we, their professors, are balancing a passion for the arts with the realities of the workplace," says Jennings, cochair of the Department of Performing Arts and AU Scholar-Teacher of the Year in 2003. "We don't just talk about the arts; we do the arts . . . It allows us to connect more fully to our students."
Erin Kaufman, a theatre major from Ohio, agrees. Like other theatre students, she gets to perform at AU's world-class Greenberg Theatre—a 300-seat state-of-the-art theatre—as well as the Katzen Arts Center.
"In the Acting for Shakespeare class we had to do a scene from Twelfth Night," Kaufman recalls. "She cast me as Viola even though she knew I hated that part because I thought I couldn't do it well. She got me to come around, to realize why she was making me do the part. And it ended up that I grew as an actor from having to be Viola."
Theatre students also grow through internships, whether working offstage at a theatre or dealing with the realities of the workplace on the broader stage. As Jennings says of her protégés, "Today’s artist has to be part of the world."