MFAIA co-Chair Ruth Wallen in conversation with recent graduates, Greer Reed and Adam Cates, MFAIA-VT F2020. During part two of this interview, conducted in November 2020, Adam discusses his creative practices prior to graduate study, his motivation for enrolling in the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program, and his experiences during his first semester.
Ruth Wallen: What is so unique about Goddard College from your perspective?
Adam Cates: Peer learning. I don’t feel like I could have ever gotten an education anywhere else the way that I got it at Goddard. Greer Reed is one of my dear friends and I got to learn from Greer for two and a half years as a part of this program. What an honor!
Greer’s one example. I could name fifteen other examples of different artists doing different things. That opened up my perspective on art making in two and a half years bigger than I ever could have possibly thought. The peer learning aspect is truly, truly special and unique.
Similar to Greer, I grew up dancing in a different part of the country and a different style of dance. I was a performer as a dancer and singer in the commercial side of things working for Disney, cruise lines, casino shows and in Reno, Lake Tahoe where I grew up. I moved to New York in 2001 to pursue Broadway and musical theater. I was there for about fifteen years working on shows on Broadway, regional and national tours, first as a performer and then as an associate artist to choreographers and directors.
I stopped performing around age thirty-five when my back would no longer let me do it. I moved into the creative side.
While I was an associate artist on Broadway, I was also directing and choreographing regional theater and industrial shows. The thing that made me start thinking about grad school is that in 2014 I published a book called The Business of Show, which was a guidebook for young performers who were looking at a career in the commercial side of theater and performing arts. It ended up becoming a textbook for different university and college programs with undergrad programs which are gearing their students towards the commercial theater. I started being invited as a guest speaker, guest lecturer, or artist in residence to different universities. I found I really loved the environment of higher ed. I was looking at what I wanted to do in the second part of my adult life. Exactly like what Greer, said, the prerequisite is to have an MFA if you’re going make a living. I’ve been teaching adjunct but as we all know, that is barely livable.
Ruth Wallen: How did you end up choosing Goddard?
Adam: A friend of mine who also was in academia, Roy Lightner, had started going to Goddard and getting his MFA. He kept saying, “Adam! Goddard’s a really great program. It’s unlike anything that you could possibly imagine because of the low-residency model. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing in order to go to school”.
I looked at some other programs, two and three-year program with an MFA in directing, which were stop-what-you’re-doing-go-to-school-and-assist-everyone-at-school. I’ve been assisting people for fifteen years!
I wanted to go somewhere where I could dig into my own work in a different way but not walk away from all of the momentum I’ve been building in my professional life.
I showed up and on the first day met Greer. We had met many years before, very briefly. It was nice to have a familiar face and met our other G-1s, new students, cohort. Everybody did different things and made different kinds of art. Very quickly I just started to look around and realize what an incredibly unique and special and diverse community Goddard was.
I don’t really know what I was expecting. But the thing that struck me the most was the genuine kindness of the community, the respect people had for one another, the way that people talked to one another, listened to one another, the diversity of age, race, gender, identity or sexual orientation—everything. I felt like this was an amazing community that I didn’t know I needed so badly.
We started doing different exercises where we were thinking back to childhood and why we were passionate about our art form, or how we got into our art form. I started to realize that I had forgotten why I loved theater in the first place. I had gotten so caught up in the commercial, financial aspect and the stress of trying to put up a show in a certain amount of time with somebody else’s money that I forgot why I liked it in the first place. The very first thing that struck me at Goddard was remembering why I even liked to do this.
Ruth Wallen: Aha! Another “Goddard moment!”
Adam: That was a really special moment. I’m like, oh, not only am I going to get an MFA, I’m going to get this therapy for two and a half years. This is awesome. I don’t have to pay a therapist. I just go to school and talk to people, tell my story. Look back at all I’ve done. That was amazing.
My first advisor was Rachael. She started giving me resources and pointing me in directions that I would not have necessarily gravitated to on my own, which was incredible. It didn’t necessarily always change the way I thought, but it made me think about theatre in different ways.
I decided that I wanted to really focus on directing and play writing. I realized that I’d been assisting some directors and directing a little bit, but I was just borrowing from other people’s processes. I wasn’t necessarily developing my own in a conscious way.
The first semester I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was just reading and writing and eventually the path opened up. That was something that I really appreciated about Goddard. It’s like “choose your own adventure”. There is no wrong way as long as you’re reaching for something and you’re committed to it.
I embraced it and ended up going on this incredible journey. It was life changing in so many ways, not only in the way that I make art and how I think about art, but it was transformative for me as a human being–how I see the world and how I see myself in the world.
Did you miss Part One, an interview with Greer Reed? Continue to read part three of this interview series here.
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