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Scott Burton sits down with CoTA teaching artist Tori Rice.

Tori, what do you find most rewarding about working as a teaching artist?

Anytime I engage with a group of students I feel energized.  I thrive off of the creative process, the collaboration with the students. I love seeing the students engage in the process of writing or acting or creating a character. It’s rewarding to then see their work performed and to absorb the reaction of the audience.

In your experience what does art do for your students?

It’s amazing, there is usually a moment when the student realizes what they can accomplish through art. This moment happens when their work comes to life. In my classes it happens when they share their art with an audience. They had nothing to start with and now they have something that they are sharing with their peers. Art has the ability to show someone a side of themself they didn’t know existed. It also allows them to build new skills and qualities. I’ve seen my students become more self-confident, more empathetic, and more broad-minded. It’s inspiring to see.

How do you inspire your students to engage with art?

In every class, whether we are focusing on writing or acting, I start with warm-ups. Circle warm-ups are great because it creates a connection with the group, a safe place to create.  If students feel anxious about diving into the creative process, the warm-ups build their confidence. If they are writing and feel stuck, a writing prompt is a way to jump-start their imagination.  As artists, we can draw from our personal experiences to tell a story, so if someone is stuck, I tell them to start by writing down something they know well. Perhaps an experience that happened to them or something they had been thinking about that day—and they don’t need to share that it’s personal. This might inspire an idea for a character or situation. From there an idea can blossom, and soon enough the anxiety is gone. I love seeing students overcome their initial fears and create something meaningful.

How has being a teaching artist made you a better artist yourself?

It’s humbling to me to see students engage with a process that is new and sometimes scary to them. This inspires me to take chances in my own work.  As a playwright, I sometimes follow the exercises I’ve given the students when creating new work.  I did this in a residency last year and wrote a new play, which recently won an award.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers and actors?

Always write and act from the heart. If you care about what you are doing, then others will too.

Tori Rice is an accomplished playwright, educator, and performing artist.  This past year, she won first place in the Scripteasers annual play contest with a play titled “Like Ivy.” Tori also enjoyed a performance of a commissioned piece titled “Sisters in the System,” based on interviews with individuals involved in the Juvenile Dependency and Delinquency court systems.

Scott Burton is CoTA’s program coordinator.