SOCORRO, N.M., April 19, 2001 -- At the start of the current spring semester, Leslie Bentley was named an assistant professor of Theatre Arts at New Mexico Tech, becoming the newest faculty member in the university's Humanities Department.
Bentley arrived at Tech after having received her doctor of philosophy degree in Theatre from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She also earned a master of arts degree in Performing Arts from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a bachelor of science degree in Biology from Nebraska's Wayne State College.
This semester at New Mexico Tech, Bentley's academic duties include teaching courses in "College English," "Acting I," and a practicum in "Musical Theatre." This coming fall, she will direct a play at Tech.
Bentley accumulated nearly a decade of teaching experience prior to coming to New Mexico Tech, having been a tutor, instructor, and graduate teaching assistant for most of her college career.
Eventually, Bentley will propose adding several other Theatre-related courses to the Tech curricula, which she will teach, including "Acting II: Performing the Short Play," "Theatre History I & II," "Playwriting," "Women in Theatre and Performance," "Political Theatre," "Contemporary Theatre," and, of course, "Performing Shakespeare."
"My research interests, like my teaching interests, are varied, but tend to overlap," Bentley says, "particularly when it comes to the area of political theatre."
Political theatre, she explains, can be divided into two main types: the more traditional, scripted theatre with an activist, political focus, such as El Teatro Campesino, which was formed in the 1960s among the migrant farmworker camps in California, and the more contemporary, non-traditional, free-form workshop approach which devises theatre performances according to the specific needs of a community.
"I've been involved in several workshops throughout the country, which draw from both types of political theatre," Bentley says.
She also has trained with such theatre artists as Brazilian director Augusto Boal and social activist Michael Rohd, artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore., which is mostly run by teenagers to address hard-hitting youth issues such as violence, teen pregnancy, and the spread of AIDS.
"I hope to eventually start a theatre group here at New Mexico Tech," Bentley says, "but I'm not so sure what form it will take--perhaps either through willing participants from acting classes getting together to do theatre, or establishing acting workshops with community groups to enable them to do their own theatrical works. . . . I'm constantly learning new things about the community, so my learning curve needs to be steep before I can begin to prepare anything in a formal sense."
Bentley points to Brazilian playwright and director Boal's development of "The Theatre of the Oppressed" movement as a major influence on her own research and teaching techniques.
"Traditional scripted forms of theatre are vital," she says, "but I also think theatre should be an integral element of community life. Art and performance are natural vehicles for human expression and should serve positive individual and social change."
Teaching, whether in classroom or workshop settings, remains one of Bentley's major passions: "It's my calling," she says. "I cannot imagine not teaching because I love working with people, finding out how they learn best, and most importantly, learning from them. Good teaching involves active listening and a willingness to learn new things.
"However, an equal passion is directing plays," Bentley adds. "There's nothing quite like creating a complex piece of art with dialogue, settings, and bodies. . . . If I weren't teaching, I'd probably be a working performer and director with a theatre company."
She currently is working on writing some of her own performance pieces, including a solo performance based on her love of the land combined with an oral history of her family as seen through the eyes of her own grandmother and other ancestors.
"I also want to begin writing an acting textbook -- something along the lines of 'Acting for the Non-Major' or 'Acting for the Non-Actor,'" Bentley says.
When she's not teaching, researching, writing, or directing, Bentley does manage to find time to pursue some of her other favorite past times, such as cooking, birding, music, and hiking.
"I've been intensely dazzled by the beauty of the landscape and the sincerity of the people since I've arrived here," Bentley says. "I have a real strong connection to Nature, so it's serendipitous that I should come here. . . . I feel truly lucky."