Alex Wilkie

English & Literature Instructor
The Art Institute of Philadelphia

Alex Wilkie

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I’m a playwright...I talk about playwriting when I teach Theatre Appreciation. I show students recordings of various plays I’ve written that have been performed professionally. I share the challenges of writing for the stage, since theatre is a highly collaborative process. For example, the director’s choice of a particular actor or set design may greatly impact the overall piece in a way I hadn’t foreseen.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

There’s one I call “Guaranteed Express Theatre,” in my Theatre Appreciation class. I give students the first four pages of a one-act play that I’ve written—without any description of costumes, set design or even how the play ends. I break them into small groups and challenge them to design the costumes, draw the set, and finish the play in the remaining class time. They sometimes balk at first, but the assignment shows the students how creativity, with some time constraints and teamwork, can be encouraged and developed. Some of the plays they design and write turn out quite well, given the small amount of time they have to develop them.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

Collaboration can give students an enormous amount of “cross-pollination” that helps motivate and inspire terrific, innovative work. This is especially true when students from very different fields, say Fashion Design and Audio Production, realize they can contribute to each other’s success.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

All knowledge is important. Many students come here assuming they need to study a specific set of skills, and once they achieve those limited, specific skills, they’re set for life. In truth, it’s very much the opposite. To be truly competitive in their fields, they must learn as much as they can—and not only about their own profession’s skills. They need to read widely from a variety of different sources, follow the news to keep up with developing trends, and meet as many people outside their profession as inside their chosen field. The most impactful, creative thinkers in the world today are at the top of their game because they’re willing to explore, and incorporate, many aspects of their changing world.