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'You've got to live up to high expectations'

Updated: Apr 7

In the limelight: Q&A with Andrew Garrod

Andrew Garrod



MicroWaves By Jack Niedenthal

Majuro—Andrew Garrod, professor emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he was previously chair of the Education Department and director of Teacher Education, co-founded Youth Bridge Global in 2006 to use drama and art to bridge cultural divides, connect youth across cultures, and provide educational opportunities to under-resourced regions of the world.

   

A Canadian citizen and a graduate of Oxford and Harvard Universities, Garrod was a public high school teacher in Saint John, New Brunswick in Canada for 16 years, where his Shakespearean productions with high school students won national and provincial awards.


Garrod, now 86, has directed and produced 17 plays over the last 20 years in the Marshall Islands from a full range of Shakespeare to more modern musicals, and just last month finished putting on the play “Oliver!” in Majuro. This was the youngest cast that Professor Garrod has ever worked with that included children as young as 7 years old, but by all opinions and standards the six evenings of 2.5-hour performances were a rousing success.

 

Garrod has written a new book, titled “I Talk of Dreams: Reflections on Adolescence/theatre/and performing Shakespeare (24 essays),” which includes writings by former theater participants from Rwanda, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Marshall Islands, all describing the impact on their young lives from performing on stage. 

 

“This book’s goal is to be a testimonial to the experiences of theater students and the transformational possibilities that exist when youth are allowed to take risks in a space that allows for creativity and growth,” Professor Garrod writes in the book’s introduction. “These essays point out the need to more fully consider the role of culture and context in shaping whether and how youth approach risk-taking on the stage and to design enabling environments responsive to those contextual inhibitions or obstacles.”

 

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I interviewed Professor Garrod in Majuro last month between rehearsals for “Oliver!” to learn more about this extraordinary man who so many of us have come to admire, love and respect for what he has done for so many of our island children.

 

Pacific Island Times:  Where did your work experience in the field of education begin for you?

 

Andrew Garrod: I'm the son of an Anglican clergyman who went to India, and I and all my siblings were born in India. And I think he and my mother infused us with a desire to be useful to society, to contribute. 

 

After I went to Oxford as an undergraduate, I always assumed I would become a teacher.  It was sort of bred into me. In fact, people said to me, "You're a natural teacher."  So that's what I decided to become.  I was offered teaching posts in the U.S. and Canada. I chose the Canadian offer because the position was in a public high school, not a private school. I didn't really want to teach in a private school, which I had come through myself, because I wanted to work with a range of society. 

 

PIT:  Discuss how your theatrical productions in the Marshall Islands have had such a positive impact on our young island actors.

 

AG: I am trying to give them the opportunity to find their voice, to find an identity, to gain confidence in their body and their own wishes and analysis of the world, and to raise their academic aspirations. I always felt that if they'd gotten to feeling better about themselves as adolescents –a challenge in adolescence– they'd be more in a position to aim high and to better their lives and to better the lives of their community.

 

That’s what drew me to international settings because I've always been more interested in working with young people who have never had the opportunity to be part of a theater production so that they can have that kind of experience.

 

PIT:  How does drama often help develop a sense of courage in our young people?

 

AG: Part of it is just role-taking. The actual demand that drama places on you, trying to get inside another person's head and another person's psychology and emotional life. I operate on the assumption that we're multiple people inside or we've got infinite capacities for evil, for good, for complexity, for sorrow, for joy.  And that when people are inhibited, they only allow a particularly highly scripted, limited version of themselves to be made available to the public.

                                  

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Drama sort of forces you to look within yourself and find other parts of yourself that are part of your total mentality, total being, and explore those in a safe context so that you can make somebody else's life –created by a playwright– convincing and alive because you're drawing on your own experiences. So, in a way, you're more fully yourself when you're acting. Although you appear to be not fully yourself at all, you appear to be another person, but you're experiencing something inward. It's a question of these young island students being willing to say, "I'm playing a completely different character, but I'm drawing on things I know about myself."

 

PIT: After you watch a play that you’ve directed, what does it take for you to say to yourself, “Okay, that was a job well done”?

 

AG:  Some might say that the audience's reaction doesn't matter so much, but it does matter to the students. It's all very well saying, “It's all about process.” But if it's all about the process and the end result isn't well received, it affects the way the actors look back at what they experienced. So, I always say the show itself needs to be the very best it can be, otherwise you won't reflect positively on the show. So winning the audience's approval is important. You've got to know your lines.  You've got to live up to a high level of expectation and quality of performance so that the audience has a good time because you owe it to them to entertain them. 

 

PIT:  What are some of the complexities involved when casting and directing bilingual productions in the Marshall Islands as the children are often coming from a wide array of cultural backgrounds and countries where different languages are spoken?

 

AG: One of the biggest challenges is when you've got two actors on stage: One speaking English, one speaking Marshallese. The Marshallese actor can often follow the English, but the English-speaking actor can't always follow the Marshallese.  So the English actor has a much harder time getting the cues right. That's certainly a challenge for bilingual productions. That is why the rehearsals are so important with this type of production. As a director, you must be very demanding.

 

PIT:  And now for the question you’ve probably been asked 1,000 times since coming back to the Marshall Islands for the first time since the pandemic: What’s next?

 

AG: The students have been making suggestions, like, "Do The Wiz" or "Do The Lion King." It is nice to see them already excited about the possibility of something that wouldn’t happen for an entire year.  I have told them that if I am well, I shall return.

 

  Jack Niedenthal is the former secretary of Health Services for the Marshall Islands, where he has lived and worked for 42 years. He is the author of “For the Good of Mankind, An Oral History of the People of Bikini,” and president of Microwave Films, which has produced six award-winning feature films in the Marshallese language. Send feedback to jackniedenthal@gmail.com



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