Crossing Borders

Theatre professor Tavia La Follette sparks creativity through collaboration.

Professor Tavia Lafollette working on theatre set design

Drop in on Associate Professor Tavia La Follette in the Center for the Arts and you might catch her planning a study abroad trip, preparing to teach TU theatre classes at area correctional facilities, or helping an M.F.A. student map her future.

She might even be constructing a six-foot tall Minotaur’s head out of papier mache.

Professor Tavia Lafollette and a student working on set design
Associate Professor Tavia La Follette (left) and theatre alumna Emily Smith ’19 (right) work on the prop for “Icarus at the Border.”

Assisted by theatre grad Emily Smith ’19, La Follette is building the monstrous prop for “Icarus at the Border,” an original theatre work she is co-producing and directing with renowned South African theatre artist Malcolm Purkey, in residence in the Department of Theatre Arts.

Projects like “Icarus” are opportunities for La Follette to do what she loves — collaborate. And that means creative, experiential opportunities for students.

“I am an ensemble-driven director,” she says, referring to the style of devising theatre that involves, instead of a single playwright, a group of individuals creating a work collaboratively.

In 2018, La Follette and Purkey co-taught an ensemble class populated by undergraduate- and master’s-level students who learned about ensemble work by doing it.

“ The most exciting part is the process of working with students. ”

Tavia La Follette

In the name of “Icarus,” they researched mythology, built costumes and props, and engaged in theatre exercises from which emerged inspiration and moments that La Follette says they will recognize in the final work.

“The most exciting part,” says the M.F.A. co-director, “is that process of working with students to figure out what the show is. That process is the sacred part of why I do what I do.”

The play features some of the same students from the class in the cast. Also in on the act are music students who participated in the ensemble to develop percussive accompaniment.

For La Follette, working collaboratively is essential for creativity.

“It gives us” she says, “a multifaced lens through which to view the world.”

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