"We don't study our art in isolation," said Ronn Johnstone, assistant professor of communication at AU, "but as a dynamic component to the community we are a part of." AU recently finalized plans for Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project, an entirely student-run, professional theatre company that enable students to produce live theatre in local venues.
Johnstone was excited by the idea. "This is only common in grad schools," he explained. "I'm not aware of any undergrad schools who are doing this. Everyone from our department chair up to the dean was very supportive."
The mission of Wisdom Tooth is to connect emerging and established theatre artists. Through creative exploration of the human journey, Wisdom Tooth provokes a profound audience experience and serves as a flashpoint for social awareness, ethical courage, and true imagination.
Wisdom Tooth will add consistency to the Theatre Arts program. In the past, students had to create their own company every year. However, Wisdom Tooth will prevent them from having to "re-invent the wheel." Senior Theatre Arts major and officer for external affairs at Wisdom Tooth, Leah Brenner said, "Theatre companies come and go all of the time. Because we have the backbone of the school, I think Wisdom Tooth will be able to stick it out. We have a stage, all the equipment, an unending line of student actors."
"I can go be an actor or director if I want, but because of Wisdom Tooth, I can now go start my own company," said Brenner. "It started out with just five theatre students, but soon we started getting applications from business students. Now, about one fourth of our staff is business students. They're very helpful in keep things on track with the business side."
Brenner recounted her experience with guest artist Amy Fortoul, a professional actor from New York. "She developed a personal relationship with us. She became a personal friend and also a professional mentor."
In addition to bringing in established artists, Wisdom Tooth offers other possibilities for student development. One such example is Coffee with Writer's Angst. Hosted in Mocha Joe's, students have the opportunity to hear their scripts read and gauge audience responses, an integral part in the creative process.
"The most recent Coffee with Writers Angst was a neat experience for me," said Brenner. "We read one of my pieces, but we also had our first submission from someone outside of the Theatre Arts department. This was a huge success. It showed that you don't have to be a theatre major to take part in this."
Another major goal of Wisdom Tooth is to be a redemptive agent in the local community. "We can be a catalyst for more effective work," said Johnstone. "It's not just about entertainment. We are a part of the community."
Wisdom Tooth will recently opened its show, "Section 8: Home by Another Name" explores issues of domestic abuse and homelessness in Madison County. Previously, they offered "Nickel and Dimed," a play based off of Barbara Ehrenreich's book which examines the daily lives of 36.5 million Americans who subsist on less than $10 an hour.
Wisdom Tooth creatively engages the community in other ways besides plays. For example on Thursday nights, guests who bring food donations get discounted tickets. Those who bring substantial donations get in for free. Wisdom Tooth also has a "Bottom Dollar" program. "For every bottom in a seat, we give one dollar to a local non-profit. Then, we challenge local businesses to match our gifts and do the same."
Wisdom Tooth is open to new opportunities to reach out. Wise Mouth, an improv troup under Wisdom Tooth, recently facilitated a workshop for a senior honors English class at a local high school.
—David Hynds is the Web Content Specialist for Anderson University.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.