Leslie Bennett

Mentor Spotlight | October 2014

Department: Theatre

Describe your work in a few sentences that we can all understand: As a theatre artist I look at the ways in which the human experience is revealed, magnified or hidden within the human body, and also the ways in which imagination, intersecting with a highly skilled, expressive artist, can create startlingly transformative imagery and forge significant connections between the actor and an audience, be it many or one... In my field, anything and everything in the world is fodder for creation, because the world moves and vibrates, from trees dancing in the wind, to the endless cycle of the ocean to the seemingly immovable stone.

Q: How did you first get interested in doing research/creative work?

A: Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing, dancing, acting, studying, or making theatre.   


Q: What do students in your discipline learn by doing research that they wouldn’t learn by just taking classes?

A: There are so many different answers to that question that depend entirely on the particular form of the work – is it an actor creating a role, a director implementing a vision, or a group of individuals collaborating on a devised project?  But essentially, perhaps, it that our research is application.  In the classroom we develop our instruments – not violins but bodies, hearts, minds, spirits. We cultivate  voracious curiosity, we train, and study and experience.  Research brings all those embodied tools to the table in a collaborative effort with other artists to create something unique and ephemeral.  And this thing only comes to life when we share it with an audience in a performance. 


Q: What do you find to be the most exciting part of doing research/creative work? What makes this line of work meaningful and interesting to you?

A: Perhaps this is redundant, but for me it is the process of collaboration, the working with others in an unguarded, compassionate, vulnerable, ensemble, where we can dare together to become bigger and deeper than we can alone, and where we unite a desire to share our common humanity with an audience.  Ultimately, it is all about giving.  


Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates interested in doing research in your field?

A: We are all artists in some way, but a true artist undertakes discipline and mastery.  Cultivate a sense of wonder, of passion, and of possibility, pay attention to the smallest details, read voraciously, be curious about everything and train diligently. 


Q: For many students, doing research is the first time they have done work that routinely involves failure and the need to troubleshoot problems.  Can you tell us about a time that your research didn’t go as expected?  Have you developed any tricks or habits that help you to stay resilient in the face of obstacles?

A: I can’t count the number of times my work has failed….I have spent hours on envisioning and devising movement sequences only to see them on bodies and realize that it is a hopeless mess.  I think we have to learn to laugh, and to cry, and then start over.  It is excruciating.  And it always shows up.  We simply cannot be creative without revision and rigor and ruthless disposal of damaged goods.  We can, however, separate the creator from the evaluator.  We must, or we can never begin.  And believe me, I have been there, too!  When I am really down, I read the stories of others that I admire, I get outside and take a walk and look at the trees and the flowers and try to remember that my essence is unaltered by failure or success.