After transferring to The University of Texas at Austin from Illinois Wesleyan University, Si Mon’ Emmett (B.F.A., Theatre Studies, 2018) created Students of Color Organization for Performance & Engagement, an organization aiming to bring students of color together and provide them with opportunities to share their work. Emmett earned her teaching certification while at UT and has been working with young artists in theatre. She is also a part of the #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence initiative where she helps run programming that provides a platform for youth playwrights across the country to bring awareness of the effects gun violence has on their communities. Outside of her theatre and education endeavours, Emmett has been an active member of Chulita Vinyl Club, a collective that promotes diversity in their community and empowers other womxn of color in music. Currently, Emmett is the Education and Youth Programs Associate at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
As a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, what was your experience here like?
I came in as a transfer student right before my senior year. So, I only did a few years at UT, and I think most of that process involved transitioning into a new environment and a new program. I went from a small liberal arts college to a larger institution, yet being in the Theatre & Dance department, I still found the kind of people that I could create bonds with. It was easy to get used to and find family within.
During your time here you helped create the Students of Color Organization for Performance & Engagement. Can you tell me more about that and how it came to be?
I was really excited to start an organization that brought the students of color in the department together. During the time that it was active, S.C.O.P.E. made way for a variety of diverse ideas, voices, and perspectives to be shared in one space. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it while it lasted. I would love for anyone who is interested in arts activism, to try something like S.C.O.P.E. again and I’d be happy to guide them through that process, to kind of hand off a torch. I think it would have helped having someone like that when I was trying to maintain a new student org.
I know you are very involved in directing, how did that come to be? Did anything inspire you to do so?
Directing was something that I’ve always had an interest in. I think I had the instincts, but just not the confidence to know that I could do it when I was a student. It took being in the directing classes, building my craft, and knowing that I know the techniques and that I have foundational skills to make the work. Now that I have that confidence & knowledge, I feel that I can easily just follow those instincts that I had before.
How did your experience at UT aid the process of teaching?
UT provided resources, meaning connections to people and to knowledge. The process of teaching became easier by not only taking the curriculum classes, but also building my directing craft, and using hip-hop theater, and incorporating social emotional learning--I integrated the things I love. I had so many projects and assignments, and so many opportunities to flex those muscles that allowed me to just teach comfortably on my own. During my time at UT, I developed the confidence to take that work out into the world and now I’m doing just that.
What is the #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence program about? How did you become interested and then later involved in creating your own plays dealing with this issue?
#ENOUGH is a campaign that was started by Michael Cotey, a Chicago-based theatre-maker, aimed toward encouraging young people to create plays that start a conversation around gun violence. He reached out to Berkeley Rep to partner with #ENOUGH at a time when gun violence had directly affected my life and family, so I let him know how I wanted to help. I had the skills and the confidence to sort of say, “Hey, I can support student materials. I have the experience. Let me know how you can use my skills to help push this campaign forward. I’m personally willing to put in some extra work.”
I see you also take part in the Chulita Vinyl Club for self-identifying womxn of color. How has being a part of this music club benefited your feeling of empowerment and togetherness?
It’s been a phenomenal ride. They took me in with open arms and taught me everything I know. I really have felt a sense of sisterhood. We share with each other the music that makes us who we are, then we get to have the fun of spinning that piece of our identities for the larger community. That, to me, feels like togetherness. All over Texas and California we’re curating our own spaces, for other women and non-binary creatives, for folks of color, for people who just want to come into a place and jam and have a good time. I think that’s empowering.
It seems like you wear many different hats, what is it like to balance all of the projects that you decided to take on?
It's hard. I can't say that I have always been successful. Yes, as a student you build a skill set and knowledge and confidence, but I’d say self-care has to be a part of the practice as well. It isn’t sustainable to try and balance everything when you can’t be present. I had school, two jobs, and was trying to support myself through college. So the way that I was able to manage it was being okay with sometimes saying “no” and just prioritizing, knowing school was important and taking care of myself was--and is--as well.
Because you teach, what is that like in terms of showing children pathways that allow their creativity to prosper?
Whenever I do work with young people, I really try to listen to what they need. I have dedicated lesson plans but so much can change in the space, so I have to be flexible. Having an open mind and listening to what they need comes first before anything.
How would you encourage students who are scared to go into different endeavours, and what advice would you give to them?
I'd challenge any students who are uncertain about their career paths to take risks that excite them, to follow their gut and be okay with prioritizing what you want. Now is the time to do just that! Then trust that the choices you make are only as permanent or restrictive as you allow them to be. There are no wrong or right choices, just opportunities that introduce more possibilities.