Mitchell Fine Arts 111
300 North Broadway
Lexington, KY 40508-1797
Phone: (859) 281-3503
e-mail Michael Dixon
“Without the liberal arts there is no good theater.”
Michael Dixon believes students learn by participating. He calls the classroom a “partici-patorium” and students who don’t participate “partici-potatoes.”
But Dixon makes participation easy for students, incorporating conversation, performance, and debate in his classes. And if you dread writing essays—don’t worry. Dixon likes to assign his students proposals instead.
To write a proposal, Dixon explains that students do the same research as they would for an essay. However, in addition to creating an argument around research, students must propose a festival that includes forums and activities to explore the argument further.
Dixon believes proposal writing is more practical than essay writing and gives students a jumpstart to a career in theater.
“In the world of theater, the ability to make up your own projects rather than rely on outside sources is critical,” Dixon says.
Focusing his courses on practical skills and participation is central to Dixon’s teaching philosophy. “Applying what you’re learning while you’re learning helps you learn.”
It’s also a perfect reflection of how the theater works. “If students never commit to learning their lines, they will never come up with an interesting interpretation of them. Students can’t play with what they know unless they have committed it to memorization.”
Dixon seeks a balance between learning and playing in the classroom that creates a culture of enthusiasm. “It’s going to be much more difficult to learn if students feel they are being dragged through material. The opposite of play is not work—it’s depression, a life with no creative freedom.”
The classroom culture of enthusiasm begins with Dixon. “I’m excited to have an opportunity to share what I have experienced in my profession.”
Dixon brings 30 years of professional theater experience to Transylvania. He has held positions as literary manager for Actors Theatre of Louisville, resident director at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and literary director at The Guthrie Theater.
Dixon believes that, like liberal arts education, the theater is all about the human experience. “You can understand the human experience in various contexts: biographically, philosophically, sociologically, historically,” Dixon says.
It’s inside the theater that these different ways of expressing the human experience come together. “If you don’t bring the power of the liberal arts to dramatic texts you can’t present the material very interestingly,” Dixon says.
And when it comes to drawing on multiple disciplines in theater, Dixon looks straight to his students. For him, teaching is a two-way street. While he teaches his students, his students also teach him.
“The classroom is a laboratory. Often people are most creative at the beginning of their profession. Students are not as burdened by conventions and traditions. If they don’t know the ‘right’ answer, they may find a better one.”
Michael Bigelow Dixon joins the Transylvania University theater faculty after three years at Goucher College in Baltimore. He has also been the Dayton-Hudson Distinguished Professor in the Theatre Department at Carleton College.
As a director, Dixon’s productions of classical and contemporary works have been seen at The Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Magic Theatre, and Florida Stage. He has led scores of workshops and master classes, including ones at the Kennedy Center, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Miami's CityWrights Festival, and the Educational Theatre Association.
In the area of new play development, Dixon supervised the commissioning, development, and production of more than 800 new plays, including plays by Tony Kushner, Joyce Carol Oates, David Henry Hwang, and William F. Buckley.
In April 2013, Dixon directed Today Is History, a drama written and performed by Transylvania students. In 2014, he directed a theatrical production of Maurice Manning’s prize-winning book of poetry, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions. Next up is Shakespeare In Mind, a collection of original plays, poems, and songs by contemporary writers.
Dixon has co-edited 35 volumes of plays, criticism, and social history, including The Moscow Art Theatre: Past, Present, Future; Anne Bogart: Viewpoints; and Second Lives: The Immigrant and Refugee Experience in Orange County.
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