New Orleans native and current graduate student Alex Ates was recently named the 2019 Graduate Student winner of Southeastern Theatre Conference’s Young Scholar Award. He will present his award-winning research paper “Powerful Contradictions on Charged Stages: Theater Revolutions in the Jim Crow South” at SETC’s 70th Annual Convention in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Ates is pursuing an MFA in Directing from The University of Alabama. Ates received an undergraduate education at Emerson College and will be in residence during the Spring 2019 semester there directing a new musical by Pulitzer nominee and Broadway playwright, Lisa D’Amour. He sat down with us to chat about the importance of the arts and the potential impact of an education from The University of Alabama.
Why did you choose to continue your education at The University of Alabama’s Graduate School?
I wanted to study with Annie G. Levy, head of the MFA Directing Concentration. She’s been an advocate for me from day one and really understands my mission and my intentions and has given me so much support to do unique and remarkable things.
And I wanted to stay in the South. For me it was important to be on the ground in a place I care about.
My third reason for choosing UA is I was committed to attending a program that was fully funded. Alabama is one of the few schools that fully funds its MFA Directing students and provides a stipend and healthcare. That indicates that the university is really invested in their students, and that’s such an affirming thing. They’ll believe in us so much, they’ll pay for us to be here.
What have you found exciting about studying at UA?
I‘ve been able to engage with other departments. For example, earlier this year, I directed “The Christians,” about a nondenominational evangelical church and a pastor who has a revelation there might not be a hell. In preparation for directing that play, I was able to coordinate with the Religious Studies department and have an independent study with Dr. Michael Altman. We were able to dig into the play from a historical and theoretical perspective to help me direct it respectfully and thoroughly. I think that interdisciplinary approach has been amazing.
This program also allows me to teach and be the professor of record for a legitimate and exciting course. I can’t think of many programs that allow students to do that. The amount of respect and trust the University puts in you, and the way you get folded into the community is unparalleled.
Why is an arts education still necessary?
Recently, the Nobel Prize committee awarded an economist the prize, because he created a theory that the way an economy can keep growing is through innovation and creativity. So whether you pursue a profession as an artist or have a significant arts education, when Americans are more creative and innovative and have the ability to imagine and think outside the box, everyone benefits. We know the economy benefits from having creative, innovative people. But in everything we do, the world changes when people have an imagination and can think of things that aren’t yet there, or connect dots in a way someone else hasn’t.
What advice would you offer fellow thespians seeking to further their education?
I’d tell students to be creative and think about their mission. Where will they get support? How much money do they have, and how much money can they get? You can’t have artistic freedom shackled by debt. Where can you find a place to support, inspire and challenge you? That’s what I have found here. You have to be creative in your path. Do your research. Investigate. Talk to people. Don’t conform to what people say you have to do.
I’ve been excited by every single term here as a graduate student. My goal is to keep finding ways to enhance, explore and share American theater. How I will do that is still a mystery to me, in a good way, but I’ve had a lot of support from the Graduate School in figuring that out.
Find out more about Alex Ates by clicking this link: https://www.iamalexates.com/