As a young adult, Lexi Silva (M.F.A. ’23) developed a passion for acting and theater, graduated from California State University Stanislaus (CSU) with a double major in Acting and English Literature, and immediately thereafter earned an M.A. in English Lit from CSU. “After a few years of acting and auditioning and pursuing life as a professional performer, in addition to my deep love of performance, I understood that I was garnering skills in writing and critical analysis,” Lexi said.
Lexi Silva student spotlight
As she completed her Master’s program Lexi began to apply for doctoral programs in performance studies, and thought about how to sustain her artistic career while developing practical business and professional skills. Perhaps serendipitously, a faculty mentor from CSU made her aware of a new program in the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance within the College of Arts and Sciences at IU. “My mentor was aware of my passion for theater as well as my desire to employ much of my English Lit program work towards dramatic literature, and she thought this may be a good fit,” Lexi noted.
The new program was an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy - dramaturgy is a crucial aspect of modern theater and the development of creative works, in that “dramaturgs” work with playwrights and creative teams, such as directors, actors, and designers, to help make the artistic vision and the “world” of the play come alive. That is, professional dramaturgs use their research and knowledge of literature, sociology, or history, for example, to help strengthen a play’s development through a better understanding of a play’s social or historical contexts, and how characters would be likely to behave in a story.
“Dramaturgs do a lot of problem-solving, and use critical thinking skills that apply to a lot of different job situations, within and outside theater,” Lexi said. “A dramaturg can live in a creative space between an actor and director, or playwright or designer, as examples.”
Lexi chose the M.F.A. program at IU over other universities’ offerings as it would provide, “A more hands-on degree program, as opposed to a Ph.D. program, which can be more theoretical,” she said. “And I also get to teach as part of my program, which is helpful, and meaningful, in terms of imparting and affirming the knowledge I’ve acquired over time.”
Dramaturgy, she said, “is a really great intersection of two things that I care about, and it has gotten me into the room to be having conversations with the people I wanted to have conversations with. I’ve gained experience in creative consulting and working to maintain meaning in new play processes as a work evolves.”
But what, exactly, does being a dramaturg entail professionally? “I’m especially interested in new play development and literary management,” Lexi explained. “Those are roles that often lead to salaried positions in large or regional theaters in America, for example, and my goal was to secure a role like my summer internship to build my resume as a young professional.”
Importantly, as she looked to secure a professional development opportunity like a summer internship, Lexi benefited from the outreach and support of the staff of the Walter Center for Career Achievement within the College. “I teach, so I watch my email closely,” she said, “and in one of the many emails we receive from the College I saw the opportunity to apply for the Walter Center Internship Funding Scholarship for students who are pursuing summer internships. So, I immediately applied.”
Her application was successful, which afforded her the opportunity to intern for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. The scholarship was essential, because “I wouldn't have been able to afford that opportunity otherwise, because the internship did not offer housing” in Chicago for the summer, Lexi said.
“I wanted my first career development opportunity outside of the University in a theater that is at the forefront of what it means to think about what we’re producing, how we produce it, and why we're doing this right now,” she said. “At Steppenwolf, I was reading a lot of new plays and getting to understand what it means to have a business and administrative role in an artistic area within a theater.”
As an intern she worked as a script supervisor workshopping the new plays 1919 by J. Nicole Brooks and Chlorine Sky by Mahogany Browne. “I engaged with different teams as part of the theater company, and learned firsthand the flexibility that being a dramaturg requires as plays are developed. This–along with my academics–has been hugely valuable, learning the processes, the tools that you use when approaching a project. Because how you study a play, for example, in an English class is so different from how you study a play in a theater environment, let alone during a production process,” Lexi said.
“The internship was an opportunity to synthesize what I've learned and apply it in a professional setting: the hands-on production experience has been invaluable,” she added.
Moreover, her M.F.A program has afforded her ample opportunities for creative and professional engagements. In addition to being able to teach Script Analysis in the Theatre Department, as a Theatre artist, for her thesis project she both dramaturged a new work, Decolonizing Your Mind with Walter Mercado by Jayne Deely, and acted in it.
“My thesis manuscript examines what happens when a dramaturgical role, which is often seen as static, can be applied and be actively useful to actors on stage – and I could engage in that because the actor was me! I’m able to gauge what materials and research I generate as a dramaturg allows actors and artists to use their bodies as means of meaning; that is, to consider how movement can be used as a meaning-making tool for dramaturgs in a new play development process. And then, what does this mean, and do, for my process as an actor?”
The M.F.A. program, Lexi said, “Has afforded me so many opportunities as a Theatre artist, and in the professional world, that I can move forward with in my career.”