In the “Big Bite Size Breakfast Show” at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
When considering the people we wanted to interview for Teacher Appreciation Month, our friend Eve Kagan was a clear choice. She’s a professional actress and international teacher who holds an Ed.M. in Arts in Education from Harvard. After she graduated from Harvard she went to Africa and spent two years revitalizing the IB Theatre Arts program at the International School of Uganda. She’s taught courses at Brandeis University, Gordon College and The Boston Conservatory and has performed in the theater since childhood, playing starring roles in critically acclaimed productions like Rent, The Scarlet Letter and Gypsy, amongst many others. She has also appeared in the film The Notebook and several television series, including Alias and The L Word.
On top of all that, she’s funny, smart, down-to-earth, loves her dog and sings at the top of her lungs in the car. She also teaches yoga while her husband is a faculty fellow in Tibetan Studies here at UC Santa Barbara.
We hope you enjoy our conversation with her as much as we did.
Eve in “Passing Strange.” Photo: Andrew Brilliant
How did you come to acting?
I grew up in Hollywood with a director/writer/producer father and a writer/actress mother, so it’s no huge surprise that I became an actress. But it wasn’t until the first time I attended the theatre that I knew it was what I wanted to do. When I was 9, my godmother took me to see her friend Tyne Daly as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway. I was overwhelmed by every aspect of the production: the singing, the dancing, the costumes, but above all, the sense of community. As an audience member, I felt completely drawn into the world of shared experience. The actors took us on a ride out of our seats and into somewhere magical, new and delightful, somewhere fantasy and reality united. All I wanted to do was be a part of that world – I wanted to grow up and play Gypsy Rose Lee. From that moment on I decided to pursue the craft of acting for the stage. And in 2007 my childhood dream came true when I played Gypsy Rose Lee in an incredible production in Boston!
Why did you start teaching?
After a lot of study I wanted to share what I had learned.
No matter where I am in the world or what age group I am presently working with, from kindergarten through adulthood, I see my classroom as a liminal space: betwixt and between imagination/fantasy and actualization/reality, a place and time where my students can step outside their norms and explore new ways of being in the world. I ask that my students embrace all of who they are and at the same time open themselves to radical change that pushes the limits of their own definitions of self. I see the theatre not only as place to explore “self” and “other,” but also as a space for reflection on society as a whole.
Eve and her dog, Bodha.
When did you really, truly realize you are a teacher?
Anne Bogart, an incredible director and founder of SITI company, writes, “Can we resist proclaiming ‘what it is’ long enough to authentically ask: ‘what is it?’” I suppose I am constantly reevaluating and redefining what it means to be a teacher, constantly questioning the role in order to allow for revelations.
Tell us about your most profound experience as a teacher.
Honestly, there are profound moments every time I teach because my mind is so totally blown by my students’ capacity to be bold and vulnerable at the same time.
Here is one particular experience that I will never forget: During my time in Uganda I had the privilege of directing The Laramie Project with my advanced acting students during the height of the turmoil over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Laramie Project is a piece of documentary theatre created by the Tectonic Theatre Company in the aftermath of the brutal murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, in 1998. The company traveled to Laramie and conducted over 200 interviews with the people of the town, transforming those interviews into a play that brings their many voices to life. In directing this piece I hoped to challenge everything I had encountered as a teacher living in Africa. It was my final year at the school and I had nothing to lose. Several of my students were openly against homosexuality for religious reasons, and yet they did not resist the play. I made sure that each student was assigned opposing roles, those who were vehemently against homosexuality and those who were either in support of it or homosexuals themselves. I wanted my students to wrestle with their own ideas and to bring truth to characters that were easy to identify with and those that were radically different in thought and/or action. And they did. One of my more obstinate students, an 18 year-old boy from Guinea, began the course a fervent homophobe. As we dove deeper into the piece he arrived to class rehearsal one day, clearly flustered. When I asked him what was up he said, “I don’t know. When we started this I thought being gay was wrong. But now, I just don’t know.” For this outspoken young man to admit to questioning his beliefs, to recognize his own “not knowing,” was a triumph. The possibility of change is present when we provide the opportunity to engage a broader perspective, when we make space for understanding diversity on an intimate level, beyond the theoretical. In taking on the “other” as self, the self is undoubtedly altered – like seeing through a new lens, worldviews expand and empathy is possible.
The “Tell Your Story Project” with Brighton High School and New Rep Theatre (2011). photo: Andrew Brilliant
How has teaching influenced your acting?
Everything you are, all that you have experienced, feeds your craft.
Who is the most influential teacher in your life?
I have learned more from my students than they or I could ever imagine.
Any words of wisdom for someone who wants to embark on an acting career (or hobby)?
Antonin Artaud said, “The actor is an athlete of the heart.” My hope for actors is the same hope I have for all human beings: open your heart, be audacious and vulnerable enough to let the world in.