Storytelling through the theater arts
Erica Berman ’05
Director of education and community engagement, Children’s Theater of Madison
Advanced degree: M.A. in theater education, Emerson College
Through my theater education, Mount Holyoke College broadened my lens as to what the arts could do.
During my first year, I took a dance course called Community Crossover, where we taught movement and storytelling through the arts to youth in a Head Start program, elderly people in a nursing home and men in prison. This has greatly informed who I am as an artist, educator and arts administrator.
As a playwright, I was fortunate to write and perform in a one-woman jazz musical about the famous singer Anita O'Day on the Rooke Stage as my senior thesis. I learned playwriting from my professor (and now colleague and friend) Paula T. Alekson ’90, herself a Mount Holyoke alumna. While my love of writing never waned, my career as a theater educator took front and center.
My liberal arts education at MHC brought into focus my passion for accessibility, diversity, equity & inclusivity. In my role as director of education and community engagement at Children’s Theater of Madison, I was on the founding team of our first-ever Access for All initiative, which includes free theater programs at community centers for low-income youth, sensory-friendly performances for youth on the autism spectrum, a student matinee program that offers discounted tickets to youth in need and sign language–interpreted performances.
I now oversee a Young Playwrights program, where we send playwright-teaching artists into a diverse array of area high schools for 10 weeks, at the end of which teens create their own 10-minute shows. I also produce the Young Playwrights Festival, which features one to two plays from each high school as a staged reading, performed by professional actors (with a talk-back afterward).
These youth have in turn inspired me to get back to writing. My play “No Wake” was selected for development at both the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and the Wisconsin Wrights Festival at Forward Theater. I was awarded residency to the 2018 National Winter Playwrights Retreat in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Most recently, “No Wake” was recorded at Chicago Dramatists for HBMG Foundation’s “The American Playbook,” an upcoming podcast featuring new works and interviews with the playwrights.
My liberal arts experience in the Mount Holyoke theater department encouraged me to explore all aspects of my artistry, gain confidence in my storytelling abilities and expand my artistic worldview.