Renowned Director Peter Sellars ’75 Emphasizes Importance of Arts through Workshops and Discussions

Peter Sellars ’75, one of the five recipients of the inaugural Alumni Award of Distinction, returned to Andover this past weekend to receive his award and share his knowledge and experience as a theater director.

Sellars is a renowned theater, opera and festival director who is known for his “groundbreaking interpretations of classic works,” according to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association website.

During his three-day visit, Sellars held a workshop and a question-and-answer session that was open to all Andover students interested in theater. He imparted his directing experience and discussed the influence the arts have on important social issues today.

Directors of the Drama Labs, members of Under the Bed and participants in other on-campus theater productions had an opportunity to speak with Sellars about his directing. Talking about Andover’s past and current theater and improvisational productions, Sellars gave students valuable tips on topics such as how to handle first-time directing and how to improve the creative aspect of their shows.

In his workshop, Sellars also described arts as a medium that can connect people and influence social issues.

“The arts is not about propaganda or how to convince people to think one way or the other. Rather, it’s about convincing people how to think. The arts create a generation with an identity,” said Sellars.

Sellars emphasized the importance of teaching the arts in America today as well as the important role drama has played throughout history. Sellars said that important historical social issues, such as slavery, have been affected by the arts, because slaves utilized drama as a way to express their inner feelings.

Sellars also said that the arts can serve as a way for all people of varying social and economic backgrounds to connect.

Emphasizing that art forms do not always have to be abstract, Sellars talked about using the theater as a space for honest dialogue about controversial issues such as illegal immigration.

“[My immigration-related] projects were actually about working with a lot of homeland security people, judges, border guards, people all the way up to the top in [Washington, D.C.], even with people without [legal citizenship] papers. I wanted them to be able to meet in the context of pure art where they are given the opportunity, for the very first time, to speak honestly to each other,” said Sellars.

“What I found most compelling about Sellars’s talk was his dedication to keeping theater fresh. He does this by incorporating creative, and often unusual, aspects into his productions,” said Joey Salvo ’14, a member from the audience at the workshop and a two-time Drama Lab director.

“For Sellars, theater is more than just a form of entertainment. Rather, it becomes the ultimate way to engage people of all types, and tell a meaningful story. As he said, theater is where we can finally speak the truth. This philosophy inspires me to rethink how I interpret scripts when I’m directing them,” continued Salvo.

Sellars’ Andover workshop clearly demonstrated values he learned here at Andover such as the idea of “Non Sibi,” which he has implemented in many of his productions.

“Find a way to dedicate every action in your life to someone else,” said Sellars.

He also touched upon the Buddhist’s four immeasurables–love, compassion, courage and insight–and how those four values guided his work in the arts.

Sellars emphasized the importance of artistic culture in students’ education in schools through funny anecdotes and jokes.

“The presence of the arts [at Andover] is fantastic. It’s not a side dish or a mere option at the buffet. It’s part of the main course,” said Sellars, who is a great admirer of schools that consider arts programs an integral part of students’ education.

Sellars suggested that the students use theatrical and performing arts opportunities more extensively as a means to further express themselves.

“I’m amazed by everything that everybody’s doing [at Andover]. What I can’t believe is the stuff [Andover students] are doing with way less time [than I had at Andover], but they’re doing way more than I did. That’s kind of mind-blowing,” said Sellars.

“What he had to say made you pause, think and reflect on the work you do and how you go about doing it. He did this not just by talking to us but by talking with us. He is one of the most innovative directors and artists [of our time]. We were thrilled [Sellars] had time in his schedule [for us],” said Erin Strong, Instructor and Chair in Theatre and Dance.

“Why did we decide to bring him to campus? I think the answer was seen in the mass of students that swarmed him after his community talk, his last event. They wanted more of him, and that says it all. So the question isn’t really why we decided to bring him to campus, it should be: ‘when are we bringing him back?’” said Strong.

According to the Andover website, the Alumni Awards of Distinction are presented to alumni of Andover or Abbot Academy who have served in their fields of endeavor with distinction.