"Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of your space. Take care of your show."
As a dual major in theatre arts and English, Rhiannon (Williams) Annin ’13 regularly heard these words from Director of Theatre Karel Blakeley. (Blakeley inherited them from his predecessor in that role, Bill Morris.) Jesuit to its core, this mantra evokes service in multiple forms. Today, five years after her graduation, Annin finds herself repeating this idea, in her own words, to her own students.
Annin teaches theatre to adults with disabilities at the Cranston, R.I.-based Artists’ Exchange, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create an atmosphere in which creativity, learning and discovery converge and individuality is celebrated. When Annin accepted the job a little more than a year ago, there was no curriculum in place, so she built one herself. On a given afternoon her students may be playing improv games, meditating, stretching, doing tongue twisters, or even learning about Shakespeare’s writing form. They are also in the process of transforming the Disney movie Moana into a short play.
Creating art has been shown to enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. Those benefits certainly extend to the 19 million Americans whom the U.S. Census Bureau estimates are living with some form of disability. Studies have shown that art can help manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem and self-awareness in ways that are truly universal. For Annin it comes down to this: If sharing her passion for theatre with others allows them to learn, grow and find joy, positively impacting their lives, then she is more than happy to do so.
“The entire process is rewarding, but the most memorable experiences come from the projects the clients will remember: games I’ve invented that resonate with them, final presentations for an audience of 10 that they remember as a Broadway performance,” she said.
As a student on the Heights, Annin found a second home in the W. Carroll Coyne Center for the Performing Arts. She immersed herself in every aspect of theatre, from acting to stage managing to directing, both through her coursework and her involvement with the theatre troupes Major Arcana and Boot and Buskin. (There wasn’t a semester when she wasn’t doing a show.) In addition, she developed her skills as an author in creative writing and poetry classes with Linda Pennisi; she continues to cultivate that craft today. Annin also found what she called a “strong sense of morality” and a “commitment to treating everyone with respect” on campus that is reflected in her work today.
As she looks to the future, Annin would like to launch her own nonprofit theatre, one that emphasizes teaching. The plays would be student-written, the production staff would be students, and the actors would be from the community. In the meantime, though, she is enjoying working with her students, writing and perhaps directing for Artists Exchange.
“Dedication sometimes goes further than knowledge, patience, intelligence and any other attribute,” she said. “My clients are thankful that I am present more than anything. I love them for that.”
For his part, Blakeley has no doubt that Annin will continue to share her gifts and education with others.
“The arts and performing arts are much broader than people might initially think, and they truly have the capacity to empower individuals and build community,” Blakeley said. “The focus of our program is to prepare our students to create and to honor the College’s Jesuit by sharing their creations with others. I am proud that Rhiannon is doing just that.”
English at Le Moyne
Theater Arts at Le Moyne