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Student Profile: Alysha Griffin

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Appling, GA (a rural town outside of Augusta, GA)

What are you studying?

Theatre, PhD

What brought you to KU?

 A few things. I attended KU for my Masters in English. When I left in 2013, I had not intentions of coming back or pursuing a PhD, which was my original intention. After some encouragement of some of the professors who kept in contact with me, I decided to apply for PhD programs. I didn’t want to be in a big city, and it was important that I had a community. I knew I would have a strong support system if I came back to KU.

When did you know you wanted to pursue theatre?

I NEVER thought I would be getting a PhD in theatre! I’ve known since undergrad that I wanted to pursue a PhD, but I thought it would be in English or American Studies. About a year after completing my masters, my mentor emailed and told me that the work I was trying to do was in a field called “performance studies.” She was on sabbatical at Northwestern and said that the scholars there were doing the work I had been trying to do English. She sent me an article that gave me some insight about the field. Sure enough, performance studies scholars where doing the work that I wanted to do.

Which of your projects has had the most profound impact on you or others?

While I would love to say that I’ve done something really amazing, I have yet to complete a project that has had a truly profound effect. In many ways, the study of theatre is a new world to me. “New” in the sense that I’ve usually separated my creative work from my academic work. This is the first time where I’m actually expected to make these things connect. So, I’m really excited about what is to come, but there are so many directions I could go! It’s a bit overwhelming. It’s good though.  

One work that is really important to me was a research paper I did for a graduate-level historiography class. I spent a lot of time in the archive, and I “discovered” that an award-winning, Broadway actor taught classes at one of the schools in Augusta in the early 1900s. Beyond just learning the history, that project was important to me because it’s been one of the few things that combines my love for history, the arts and my culture into one. I am really proud of the creative piece that came out if as well. I knew that the dramatic piece was something to be proud of when I was writing it. That type of satisfaction is rare. I’m very proud of it.   

How do the arts have an impact on your daily life outside of the classroom?

My art is critical to my spirituality. I have a bad habit of keeping my writing to myself because I don’t always think about it as art. I think of it as something sacred. When I perform or I let myself write freely, it’s an out of body experience. When I see what I did or someone tells me about the performance, I never feel right taking credit because I don’t even remember doing it. It’s like coming to life and escaping all at once. I feel connected to something bigger than myself in those moments. So when I’m not writing or performing creatively, I’m thinking about it or scribbling something in a notebook. Few things actually get turned into anything, but just the act of doing it is enough for me. It is a healthy obsession.

Who is your biggest inspiration either personally, professionally or both?

I have some powerful, divine women in every aspect of my life. My grandmother and my mother give me so much joy, peace and encouragement that their love alone is enough to inspire me for multiple lifetimes. Also, I have some wonderful women mentors who have “mothered” me through my education. They have gone above and beyond to make sure I have what I need to excel in my journey through higher education. These women are leaders in their areas. They are the best of the best. The women who are grooming me faced not only the inherent racism of academe but also the sexism. They tore down doors and broke ceilings, although their impact has still not been noticed. These trailblazers choose to invest in me. They choose to take time to hold me accountable. They see my potential and talents, even when I do not. I can’t help but to be inspired by the women in my village.

Why do you think the arts are important?

The arts are where our humanity lies. Our ability to do things with our minds and bodies, just for the sake of doing them, is special. Whether an artist is bearing their naked souls or someone is touched by an artistic creation, art allows us to intimately experience one another in meaningful ways.

What is your creative process like?

I don’t have a process. I have habits though. For a long time, I haven’t taken myself seriously as a writer and a performer. The points in my life where I haven’t consciously practiced my creativity, I’ve been the lowest. I don’t regret those times because it led me to develop some creative habits that might eventually lead to a process. If not, though, I think these habits will help me to be consistent. And, of course, consistency leads to mastery.

So, one of the habits that I have is keeping my mind clear. I’ve never struggled with writers block. I’m the opposite. I have too many ideas and not enough time or energy to develop them. I don’t write creatively every day, but I do journal almost daily. It helps to clear my mind of all the clutter that gets in the way of creating my poetry and stories. Also, I read for pleasure. Even if it’s only a few minutes before bed, it keeps me going. Lastly, I let myself day dream. On weekends, I stay in bed late and let my imagination do its thing. When I’m busy (which is most of the time), I keep a notebook on me. When I have a line or a scene in my head, I write it down just to get it out. If I find myself coming back to it, then I know it’s probably something worth keeping around and working on. If not, then at least it’s out of my brain. What’s cool is that years or months later I’ll flip through a notebook and find something. It’ll be half-done, but I’ll realize that it was actually pretty good. Keeping a record of my progress is encouraging. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I have to admit that it is rewarding to finally see myself becoming the artist that I’ve always envisioned myself to be.

What message do you hope to communicate through your work?

Love and healing is a big thing for me. Don’t be mistaken; my writing is anything but idealistic and feel-good. I had surgery once. When I went in for a follow-up appointment, the doctor said it wasn’t healing correctly and started ripping off the scab and massaging the wound so it would bleed again. That’s what I think my writing does—rip off the scabs of poor healing wounds so that communities can heal. I think of my writing as medicine. But no one likes the taste of medicine. So, I like to write things that are appealing on an aesthetic level, so people don’t taste the medicine at first. I think if I’m writing something that tastes good, people will keep coming back to it. Each time, they’ll find something new, and they’ll be a little healthier each time. That’s probably not the case, but I like to think it is. J

What advice would you give to students just starting their path to an arts degree?

I’d say be both deliberate and open. What I mean by that is, be strategic about your education. Explore everything because you’d be surprised how an arts degree is valuable in fields that aren’t “artistic.” People need and love creative minds. Also, know what you want and be accepting of the fact that your path as an artist won’t look the way you envision it. And that’s ok. Be open to it, though. That opportunity may be better than what you thought you wanted.

If you could invite five people, living or deceased, to a dinner party, who would you invite?

I love this question, but I don’t think five people is fair! If I had the opportunity to get everyone in the room, I’d want it to be a masterclass. I’d invite Langston Hughes and Stephen King for sure. These are two writers who ignited my love and passion for the written word really early on, and I still look to them. Then, I’d invite James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker because these are master wordsmiths and storytellers.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be and why?

I’m cheating. I’m picking two, and I’d remix them into one. Since it’s my life, I can do that, right??? The first would be “Golden” by Jill Scott. It gets me hype and excited about being alive. It’s an anthem for living with purpose and passion. And the other song, I can’t even think about without crying!!!! It’s called “Eternal Sunshine” by Jhene Aiko. This is one of the only songs I know that captures what I think real joy looks like even though it makes me emotional. It is easy to forget that even in the midst of my personal problems and the problems that happen in the world, somehow or another, we’re able to find moments of happiness. The song reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, the good moments in our lives and the good people are the only ones that matter. Together, these songs give my perspective on life and art—be free and be love.