Patricia Helsel
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Professional Statement
     I am a teacher, director, performer, overseer, and colleague. Educating students is my primary goal, driven by the need to create and collaborate. Michigan Technological University’s mission is to “create the future.” The Visual and Performing Arts Department’s mission is to “inspire, create, and share the arts.” Our department offers several programs of study in Theatre and Entertainment, each with a specific focus. It is imperative for performers, designers, and technicians to always be aware of the greater artistic context in which they work. As a director and overseer I guide individual efforts to provide a meaningful theatrical experience for a diverse audience of students, faculty and community members. 

     While I assume many roles, my role as teacher prevails in most settings. My approach to teaching is an eclectic one. I use a variety of techniques to adapt to the needs and learning styles of individual students. Konstantin Stanislavski once said, “We must each work out our own unique approach to acting through experimentation and evaluation.”  

     I strive to empower students with knowledge and understanding. Lessons learned outside the classroom are a valuable part of the student’s education. I teach as much in the halls, on the stage, in the wings, and in my office, as I do in the classroom. University is a vehicle for learning to make sound choices and, eventually, the opportunity to achieve self-confidence and the esteem of others. I take advantage of countless informal teaching opportunities.

     Perhaps the most significant task I perform in the capacity of Artistic Director is engaging faculty and students in designing a season of productions that provide appropriate challenges for our students while appealing to our audience. Our students and our audience benefit from diverse offerings. Balancing individual needs of students with overall exposure to a variety of theatrical genres and styles requires a great deal of consideration in the choice plays. Understanding the needs and desires of the students and audience is imperative and requires close collaboration with colleagues.

     I have made a significant contribution to our department as a stage director, evidenced by the invitation to present The Bald Soprano and The Lesson at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region III, in 2010. Peer reviews and responses to other productions have all been positive. In 2009 the cast for The Robber Bridegroom was nominated for a Certificate of Merit for Ensemble Acting. For the first time, in 2009, MTU students nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship auditioned at the regional festival, admirably representing our department and Michigan Tech, and setting a precedent for future participation in acting. It has been extremely gratifying to witness the growth of students who are regularly cast throughout their time at Michigan Tech. The average production is comprised with a majority of non-majors who return to audition each semester. With two productions to her credit, the actor who was once awkward and inexperienced now serves as a role model demonstrating bold choices and exuding confidence.  

     As a director I coach actors, but I also take part in teaching the production process behind the scenes. At Michigan Tech, we seek opportunities for students to experience roles as designers, stage managers, technicians, and technical directors. It is not uncommon for the production team to be comprised primarily of students. The theatre faculty serves as mentors guiding design/tech students throughout the development of a production. Their success is highly dependent on learning to communicate with the director and other team members. Leading students through this process can be daunting at times. I have learned to be patient as the effort is rewarding as I watch their growth. The weekly production meeting is a classroom where I can help students to exchange ideas, working toward a common goal. Student designers are often asked to re-word their ideas until they become tangible, or my colleagues and I prompt them to ask necessary questions. They learn to articulate their ideas and refine their designs and innovations to best serve the production. They improve with every attempt.

     Performing in productions allows me to teach by example. Performing with and for my students establishes a standard to which students can aspire. Students learn a great deal from watching their teachers perform, and by working alongside them as fellow actors. As Sally Talley, in Talley’s Folly, I performed with a guest artist. Students had the opportunity to see the rehearsal process where they were able to observe methods and skills covered in class. I was able to use my own performance as an example when introducing a technique in class. Similarly, performing alongside students in a production of Independence, they had the opportunity to experience the creative process from a more professional perspective. My approach to creating a character, and to working with an acting partner stimulates the young actors to be more committed and more focused throughout the process to match my experience. 

     My first challenge as a new faculty member was to implement the Theatre and Electronic Media Performance program. Offering a performance major with a technological component not only makes sense at a technological university, but emerging media has made the technically savvy actor more employable. Given the strength of the Audio Technology and Sound Design programs, the performance major is structured to provide the actor with course work and practical experience involving sound. Performance courses like Acting I, Voice and Articulation, and Vocal Techniques for Media and Theatre include a co-curricular module with shared projects involving audio technology. The performance program is in its infancy but has graduated one major, attracted a Leading Scholar, and is gaining momentum in recruitment through an outreach program I took part in creating to bring high school students and their teachers to campus.  

     Last fall the Visual and Performing Arts Department hosted Theatre UP (Upper Peninsula) a 2-day conference where over 100 area high school students came to the Michigan Tech campus. They attended workshops and their teachers took part in educational sessions led by the VPA faculty. The students took in a performance in the evening and toured the Walker and Rozsa facilities. In the spring, many of the same students and teachers returned for a festival in which they performed scenes from plays produced in their schools. Students auditioned and interviewed for VPA scholarships and one was presented to a very talented young junior from Holland, MI. Hopefully she will attend Michigan Tech next fall. Currently the Theatre and Electronic Media Performance program has a diverse enrollment of women and minorities, a trend that supports the University’s Strategic Plan.

     This summer I launched a website for my business, I operate a successful voiceover studio producing (among many genres) vocal tracks for commercials, web videos, Internet courses, corporate training videos, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. I keep up to date with industry standards and emerging media which helps me to provide practical instruction and advice to my students. My business has helped me to build a network for internships and potential employment opportunities for my students. 

     I take very seriously my role as colleague. A work place conducive to create and nurture is built around positive relationships. I share a mutual respect with my colleagues and value their respective expertise in teaching and creating art.  

     We teach best when we can optimize the following conditions:

~When we share our vision with colleagues;
~When we support one another in achieving goals;
~When we feel we are making a difference in the life of another;
~When we are empowered to create new ways of teaching old material and lessons;
~When we are surrounded by people who take pride in their work;
~When mutual respect is practiced amongst students and colleagues.

     I work to create these conditions which, in turn, help to form the most positive learning environment. With such a conducive climate so many other aspects of teaching simply fall into place.