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USC professor encourages students to experiment

Angus Fletcher works with resident faculty to establish an environment where students feel comfortable. (Photo/Nathan Carter)

Angus Fletcher, assistant professor at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and faculty master for the Arts and Humanities Residential College at Parkside, speaks from experience when he tells his students to experiment and explore.

“One of the things that I do in my research and in my teaching, but particularly at Parkside, is to encourage people to take chances and to be bold, to be brave, to experiment,” he said.

As Parkside faculty master, Fletcher works with other resident faculty to establish an environment where students feel comfortable experimenting with their art.

“We want to give our students a chance to explore who they want to be as artists and who they want to be as people,” said Fletcher, who has served as faculty master for the last two years and as a resident faculty member for two years before that. “The most important thing is to create a space where you can fail and feel OK failing, and the best way to do that is to create a community of people you know and trust.”

To foster this community, Fletcher hosts weekly dinners for about 14 students at the Parkside residence he shares with his wife, Sarah, a professional chef, and his 12-week-old daughter, Marlowe. The informal get-togethers typically involve hanging out for a couple of hours “to chat and talk about art.”

Kenya Nunley, assistant director for the International Residential College at Parkside, said these intimate dinners have been a huge success.

“He connects with students really well,” Nunley said. “He does grass roots programming, where he assesses needs or desires of residents and does his planning based on that.”

One example Nunley noted is ArtSCapades, a program that Fletcher helped Resident Assistant Marissa Roy develop. ArtSCapades offers free biweekly outings to theaters, cultural festivals and other arts venues throughout Los Angeles.

“ArtSCapades has involved going dancing and going to museums, lots of things to try to get you out of your head and just into doing, as opposed to analyzing,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher has his students do plenty of analysis in his theater classes, which cover how to read a play or compare comedies.

“The great thing about being a teacher is you just meet so many different students in so many different contexts. The thing I most value about theater and USC is how diverse they are,” said Fletcher, who also works with the Brain and Creativity Institute, based at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and does research with the departments of psychology and classics.

“It is a university, as a whole, that encourages risk-taking and experimenting and encourages people moving across boundaries and doing new things — it’s very entrepreneurial,” he explained.

It was this same “experiment and explore” philosophy that guided the educational and career choices that ultimately brought him to USC in 2006.

Born in the Lake District in England (where Hobbits come from, he said wryly), Fletcher moved with his family to Philadelphia at a young age. A science scholarship took him to the University of Michigan, where he decided to stretch himself and join the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, which he described as a great learning experience.

After earning his Bachelor of Science in English and cell biology, Fletcher brought his background in neuroscience and interest in humanism to Yale University, where he earned his PhD in literature. An invitation to join a think tank at Stanford University led him to the West Coast.

“I had a chance after Stanford to be an English professor, which is obviously a great job,” he said. “But I decided that I wanted to teach drama, because for me, it was more of a risk. I didn’t really have very much experience in theater at all. Dean Madeline Puzo very courageously hired me.”

For Fletcher, USC is where he plans to stay: “It is the place where I have been happiest and definitely the place where the students and I have had the most meaningful relationship.”

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