From Stage to Classroom: Victoria Crutchfield
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English teacher Victoria Crutchfield, who teaches Freshman Composition, is one of the newer teachers at Stuyvesant. Before teaching, Crutchfield was an opera director and was heavily involved in theater. Her mother is a singer and her father is a conductor, so theater has been a large part of her life. Starting from a young age, she auditioned for plays, acted throughout high school, and even directed operas in college.
As she transitioned from theater to teaching, she describes her connection between the two. “From a very young age, I’ve been fascinated by storytelling. And I think that is the connection to teaching English because, in English, we’re investigating different ways of storytelling all the time, and how different authors are telling their stories in their works,” she said.
She started directing many small opera companies throughout the city, including Bronx Opera and Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, and also worked at the prestigious conservatory of the Juilliard School. “My projects were very different at these different places, depending on whether I was assistant directing, which meant that I was getting to learn from and work with older directors,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield collaborated with a friend, composer Matt Aucoin, to put on interdisciplinary performances and explore creativity through broad ranges at the Peabody Essex Museum, which is known for its cosmopolitan feel and modern exhibitions. “And we took different approaches to that sometimes, sort of taking different works, musical works, and stitching them together to try to create a loose sort of plot or arc. [That was] a really fun part of my life as an artist,” she said. In one such project, she worked with a violinist to create a performance in which the audience moved between galleries, where a multitude of songs would be played on the violin.
One of Crutchfield’s favorite works was directing “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” an opera about a group of nuns who were executed during the French Revolution. “It’s dramatic stuff. Opera is very exciting and beautiful and sad and moving,” she said. She was fascinated and loved the creativity involved.
Crutchfield transitioned from theater when she noticed the excitement she felt from teaching other students. “I was teaching classes that I was really excited to be in with smart kids who wanted to learn, and that was very satisfying,” she said. Relative to teaching other students, she loved learning herself and connected the heart of teaching to that of theater. “When you’re working in theater, it’s like you and a whole bunch of other people who really care about this artwork are coming together to explore it and understand it better and make it come to life,” she said.
To her, being a teacher is connected to working as a director, in many ways. “They’re fundamentally similar. It’s just the nature of the exploration that’s different,” she said. Even so, she explains that they both involve being a guide. She incorporates theater into her teaching by having her students perform scenes from plays and finds that to be a very satisfying experience. “I also think that [...] that way of exploring work can be really enriching. When you have to actually try to understand an artwork well enough to put it on its feet and to make it happen live, you learn a lot about what the author intended, about the world that the artwork is coming from,” she said.
For Crutchfield, being a teacher helps her further understand what she is teaching from the perspective of her students. She describes it as having one big conversation. “I want for my students to leave my classrooms feeling more intellectually awake, and better empowered to express themselves,” she said.