Ayla Safran, ‘15
Anna Dolan, BHSEC’s new theater teacher, has an unusual background, one that most probably haven’t guessed, despite her unique accent. Born the child of an Irish father and an English mother during a time when neither was completely welcome in the other’s country, Ms. Dolan was raised in Jamaica. She grew up studying classical ballet, attended a performing arts high school, and was even a dancer with the Royal Festival Ballet in London. But she soon realized that “ballet is very hierarchical, and not terribly imaginative.” Instead, she decided to study theater.
Ms. Dolan moved to Kenya for her undergraduate education through an exchange program because, in her words, “nobody wanted to go to Kenya, so I thought why not?” However, when she arrived at the university, she learned that it was going to be closed for eleven months. With very little money and experience, she went to her Swahili teacher to ask if there was anywhere that she could stay until the university reopened. Her teacher offered for her to come and stay with her family, in a rural village. Ms. Dolan accepted, and ended up moving to a small village with no technology, and where many of the people did not speak English. She admitted, “I thought it would be a disaster, but it actually turned into a wonderful thing. I was miserable at first, but after three months, I sort of found my place.” She found a community that she began to feel comfortable with, and a place that felt like a home. She also said, “In the absence of TV, radio, and books, a story teller is a great thing to have around. I told stories to the community every night, and they would laugh, and that was my role in the community.”
Travelling has been a large part of Ms. Dolan’s life in other ways as well. For example, when she was eight years old, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with her family in a small boat, which, in her words, was “very boring, and freezing cold.” She has also taught classes and workshops in many countries besides the United States, including Ethiopia, Micronesia, Kyrgyzstan, and India. She speaks four languages, and said that she really enjoys figuring out “how to be effective across cultures.”
Before coming to BHSEC, Ms. Dolan taught theater at Central Connecticut State University, as well as at the Bard Young Writer’s Workshops at Fir Acres and Simon’s Rock. She said that she decided to come to BHSEC because of the age group, but also because “I am thrilled that it’s free college for you guys.” She described herself as a “working class girl,” and therefore as someone who is excited by the diversity, socioeconomic and otherwise, that defines BHSEC.
She also thinks that, while the intellectual, serious nature of BHSEC is very important, fun is something that is often underestimated in such an environment, and that theater can fill that gap. She described theater as “pleasurable,” and continued to say that, “pleasure is something that’s underestimated in this world… Because without it we can’t endure the onslaught of aging, working, the loss, the grief, the sickness.” She explained how theater has value in its ability to rejuvenate and enhance one’s imagination. However, she also said that theater is “a way to rehearse for life’s sorrows and difficulties and to imagine what you would do when confronted with life’s difficulties in the comfort of a dark room and comfy seat.”
Ms. Dolan has had a very unusual life, beginning with her international past, and including her unlikely skills such as sexton navigation and leading “a string of six packhorses.” She has been a champion fisher in Micronesia, she walks 200 miles in Oregon each summer, and she has adopted a son from the foster system. All of these experiences, and many more, are things that she brings to BHSEC. She hopes that in teaching theater here, she can give students something important – a way to be happy: “I think that a lot of academics value seriousness and stuffiness, and I think that seriousness is fine, but stuffiness just doesn’t spread joy.”