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The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

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Helping students find their voice

Piven Theatre Workshop teacher Morven Higgins pushes students out of their comfort zones

For many kids, the subject or class of theater is a place where they can be themselves. It’s a place where they can experiment with who they are and have fun doing it. Theater is all about exploration, and can take on many different forms. Scripted, guerrilla, improv, or in this case, story theater.

The Piven Theatre Workshop is a nonprofit organization based in Evanston, founded by Byrne and Joyce Piven about 50 years ago. They have been teaching classes such as improv, story and scene study and multiple classes that put on a performance for a long time. They have multiple teachers who help run specific classes and workshops, but the one I had the experience of interviewing was Morven Higgins.

Higgins teaches a variety of things, most of which are advanced classes such as Directors Institute, where students lead their own class plan for a day, and Young People’s Company, which is Pivens most advanced performance ensemble.

“What makes it really unique is that it’s usually about process, empowering young actors with their own voices and seeing them as artists instead of just telling them to put on a play,” Higgins shares.

Higgins had a “student to teacher” story when it comes to Piven, as she took classes to start out.

“I started taking a class in sixth grade, and I just remember being really stressed with school work, but when I was in class I wasn’t thinking about anything else but being in class,” Higgins says, “and so it really felt like a break.”

Higgins found Piven a “challenging but exciting experience as a young actor” and started getting chances to direct as well, where she found a strong love for that aspect. After being a student, Higgins went off to college to pursue a general acting and directing career at University of Chicago. “I thought to myself, I wishthat the things that we did at Piven were more present in this place, and to do that more with the actors,” Higgins states. “So I kind of went back for those reasons.”

After coming back in college Higgins started doing teacher training for Piven to become a lead teacher and director, and also worked in the Piven office for a while. As of now, the main thing Higgins works on at Piven is the performance of Young People’s Company.

Young People’s Company is Pivens most advanced youth class and perfor- mance ensemble for high schoolers. It is one of the very first ensembles introduced at Piven. “The idea is really to treat the young people like it is a professional ensemble, with those sort of high expectations,” Higgins says.

At the end of the experience students put on a performance where they show 4 different stories they worked on, and tell them in a story theater way, most of the stories connecting with a theme.

Higgins’ role in YPC is many different things. Higgins helps in the process of forming the new ensemble, selecting directors and stories, deciding the theme, and lots of different technical things. YPC, while being a rehearsal process, is also a class which Higgins also runs. This class includes playing different games to help with acting, workshopping small stories, learning about Piven, etc. As well as doing all of these jobs, Higgins also directs one of four stories in Young People’s Company.

Izayah Carr, a senior who has been in YPC since his sophomore year, was in a story directed by Higgins. The story was part of YPC’s show last year and was The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe.

“Having Morven as a director was pretty special,” Carr says. “I find it interesting to work with different directors to see their different takes on things, and she was definitely one of my favorite directors that I’ve had.”

Carr explained that Higgins’ ways of directing were some of his favorites, because of how she works the story and how she gives feedback. Carr has also learned a lot from Higgins to better his skills in story theater.

“I’ve learned to play into it more and really get out of my comfort zone,” Carr says. “I have a zone that I like to stay in and she does try to get me out of that, which helps a lot.”

Higgins is one of Pivens’ most beloved teachers, and she cares for her students and wants them to enjoy improving themselves in this topic. It’s best for the students if the teacher is passionate as well, and that is definitely the case here. “It’s important for students to have an artistic environment where they feel appreciated,” Higgins states. “It’s easy for someone to kind of crush somebody and make them feel they are not good.”

The process of Piven, or just theater in general, is all about finding your voice. You need a space where you can really discover yourself. You need an ensemble that will help you through every step of the way. But most importantly, you need a teacher like Higgins.

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Xander Mroczek, Staff Writer
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