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Theatre professor invites students to collaborate, explore

Naphtali Leyland Fields' theatre career began by chance – or perhaps fate. When a sports injury put her on crutches during her first year of college, the would-be English major was drawn to the building closest to her residence hall, which housed – you guessed it – the theatre department.

"They invited me in, started teaching me to sew in the costume shop – my crutches didn't get in the way – and I was wooed over to the joy of storytelling using physicality rather than just words," Fields says. "I was converted."

Fields loves that theatre has the potential to take on many forms and be used in a variety of ways. "It is such a flexible, ever-changing and dynamic art form," she says. "There's so much that one might imagine when one thinks of a theatrical production."

And now as a visiting assistant professor of theatre, she invites Whitworth students to explore this variety. She has directed two very different plays at Whitworth in 2018, starting with the swashbuckling adventure epic Argonautika. The fall musical was the heartwarming The Spitfire Grill, "a beautiful play about redemption and hope and learning to see past some of our prejudices," according to Fields.

Naphtali stands outside a building on campus and smiles.

Choosing a play to stage is a multifaceted decision, of course, but Fields says, "I'm looking for stories that feel relevant and important to our community – both our Whitworth college community and also our local Spokane community."

One play that she plans to bring to Whitworth hasn't actually been written yet. Fields traveled to Chile and Argentina last summer to collaborate with artists there on an original play that will likely center on themes of immigration. She is now beginning to write, and hopes to premiere the piece at Whitworth in spring 2020. Next year, students will participate in creating the staging.

"Students will be involved for almost a yearlong process," she says, "and for me the process is longer."

Fields describes her directing style as collaborative and sometimes improvisational. "I like giving actors the opportunity to make choices, to try something out, to realize it didn't work, and then to try something else," she says. She gets to do the same thing as a teacher and director. "Students also provide those opportunities to me. We are in a position, whether in the classroom or the rehearsal room, to offer each other grace," she says.

Now in her second year at Whitworth, Fields has experienced moments that have almost taken her breath away – moments where students have shared their stories "in an absolutely theatrical way and also in a vulnerable, honest, true way."

"My favorite moments at Whitworth are ones in which students bring themselves to the classroom or the rehearsal room and are fearless in their honesty and openness and sharing," she says, "and then the next beautiful thing is when I see the students who are audience members responding to that sharing with absolute love and acceptance. There's no judgment or condemnation. It's just a really holy thing."