Tell us a little about your background. You used to be a teacher, correct?
I am a Black Dallas, Tx native. My pronouns are she/her. By day I am the Director of Education at Dallas Theater Center and Professor of Theater and Humanities at Eastfield and El Centro College. I am a proud graduate of the University of North Texas (BA, Theater), and The University of Houston (MA, Theater Education). I am a director and actress. I have worked with several DFW theater companies. As an artist, educator, activist and biracial woman, Morgana hopes to honor, uplift and empower people of color. I did this for eight years as a middle school teacher at Billy Earl Dade Middle School and Ann Richards Middle School in Dallas ISD.
What do you miss about being in a classroom from day to day?
I miss the freedom of thought and the passion to learn. I love the power of someone using their voice and taking in new information. I love to debate, argue, laugh, hug, ponder and share with my community of students. I got to do that in the middle school setting and in my current role as professor in the community college setting. I facilitate learning in a multi-generational space where my students come from all parts of the world and whose age ranges from 16-60.
You’re also an actor. What part has meant the most to you as a performer?
I loved the role of Bailey in Anyika-McMillan Herod’s Migration. I played a multi-racial person on the search for her lineage. It was my comeback to the stage. I am forever thankful to her and my friend and director Selena Anguiano.
Photos of Migration courtesy of Morgana Wilborn
You recently directed an incredibly successful adaption of Loving and Loving. Tell us about the importance of that show.
The play had its regional debut at Bishop Arts Theatre Center. The play was written by New York playwrights Beto O’Byrne and Meropi Peponides. They are good friends and I am proud to have directed a show by two multi-racial playwrights that included a story of the love between a Black woman and a White man. The same as my parents. It also included a multi-racial non-binary character named Maya. I saw so much of myself in her. I got to work with my friends and build new friendships. I got to live out my dream. I have dreamed of directing a professional play since I was teen directing my first UIL play. I’m thankful for the experience of sharing important US History. Important stories of people of color. Important messages of love and compassion for everyone.
Did the passionate community response for Loving and Loving surprise you?
Yes and no. I am surprised that they enjoyed my work. I am not surprised that they loved the story. The playwrights wrote a fabulous piece. We live in a compassionate community here in Dallas, TX. I try to give my people credit for their hearts and ways of giving and loving. I am eternally grateful for their support.
Loving and Loving photos by PHOTO NOIRE
Why do you think theater is an asset for students?
Theater builds community. It creates a place and space for those who want to join in union. A space for those who want to be heard. A space for those who want to create the images, thoughts and stories that they see in their head. A space to feel heard and seen. Theater holds a mirror up to nature. Therefore, in theater our community is able to see a glimpse of themselves. A glimpse of their pain, power, love, shame and humanity.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for students you come into contact with?
The challenge of being heard, seen and respected. As adults we carry the trauma of those that came before us. We discipline and exist within the realm of how we were loved, cared for, brought up, talked to or harmed. We carry that trauma in the way that we engage with younger people. We tell ourselves that we know better and they know less. We tell them that they should merely listen and that it takes levels and experiences and pain for them to finally understand and to have a voice. So they figure to themselves…why even speak up? Why show up, if you won’t even see me or hear me?
Tell us a little about Project Discovery.
In 1986, Dallas Theater Center created Project Discovery in order to build bridges between our theatrical programming and the educational work being taught in our local schools. For the past 33 years, Project Discovery has worked with over 300,000 students and teachers by developing enriching experiences at little or no cost. The mission of Project Discovery is to serve as a catalyst for young people to explore their place in the world. Currently we serve 720 students and teachers across 30 schools. Teachers engage in a professional development workshop taught by Dallas Theater Center education staff prior to their student’s educational experience. In these workshops, teachers are
given resources and participate in activities that they can use to prepare their students prior to the play-going experience. We are lucky to have such open-minded and generous donors that assist us with the means for us to offer free transportation, free workshops and professional development and free tickets to five shows a season. Students engage in new ways of thinking and living in their pre-show workshops, before engaging in the art amongst a multi-generational audience. We hope that Project Discovery builds community and engages students who are our future patrons, artists and thinkers. Project Discovery is open to any high school or middle school who chooses to apply. We generally serve schools who self-identify as Title I. However, we don’t require them to submit under that stigma and label because it creates a poverty mindset. We serve our entire community. Our community is diverse.
Our community has unlimited resources and opportunity and limited opportunity and resources. Those who have been greatly served and those who have been under-served. Our community is built with the experience of those who are the oppressor and those who have been oppressed. Our community should always feel like they can find a valuable resource in us and that they can leave with the same respect and dignity that they brought when coming into our doors. I am working to revolutionize a new program given the circumstances of the pandemic. I hope to continue servicing the community in every capacity.
Project Discovery photos by PHOTO NOIRE
How do we, as a society, help students from all walks of life feel seen and heard?
Simply that. Encourage them to be seen. To stand in their beautiful image. Encourage them to have an opinion on topics, even if they don’t have a ton of information. Guide them to information. Make love offerings of knowledge and support without judgement and shame. Simply tell students that you see them. That you hear them. Tell them that you are proud when they show up. Not everyone wants to be in front of a camera or centerstage. However, they want to feel as though their existence matters. They want to feel that their words, what they care about, who they love, what they have seen or read or created matters. We must echo that.
Sometimes the challenges may seem too big for some people to tackle. Is there something people can do in their daily lives to make things a little better?
I offer everyone to first keep showing up for themselves. I have the lived experience of wanting to give in and give up. Yet, everyday the universe woke me up and challenged me to show up. I only know that in my own experience, it took time to heal. Time to learn from the chaos happening around. It took time for that chaos to bring me clarity. I offer everyone to show up each and every day. I offer everyone to find those small things that bring joy. I offer everyone to allow these feelings to exist in their body no matter how painful they may seem. Sit with them. Call them out and find a moment to release. Releasing those things that have brought us down, releases that power it has in our bodies and the existence it has occupied in our minds. That release will lend itself to being open to new possibilities and new ways of thinking and living. I will always offer that everyone consider speaking to a mental health practitioner that aligns with their needs and values if they so choose.
You said you think of yourself as a servant to the community as opposed to its savior. What does that mean to you?
I have lived by the creed of being “a service to all mankind”. My ancestors served in pain and bondage. I am their wildest dream. The least that I can do in their memory is to be a servant leader and be the change and create the change that they could only dream of. I am not a savior. Ironically enough, not everyone wants to be saved. So I serve them. My community. Wherever they are in their life. Wherever they wish for me to meet them. Whenever they choose to call me. I serve them through love offerings of thought, knowledge, food, laughs, hugs, quotes, readings and art.
How do we start more conversations about education, race, sexism, and more tough topics?
In order to start conversations, we need to show up. The only way to show up for the collective is to show up for ourselves. We show up for ourselves by calling out our own biases. Taking a look at our ancestral trauma. Gazing at the shadow parts of ourselves to see how we have fallen short, failed ourselves and those around us. Being open and willing to heal, forgive and learn more. We need to know that the world may not always allow for a safe space, but it is brave. We must self soothe ourselves so that we can build safety within our own bodies in order to show up for conversations that could trigger or challenge our way of thinking.
You talk about learning being a two-way street. What have you learned since becoming Director of Education?
I am even powerful when I am silent, I don’t always have to yell or even speak up. I make changes even if I am not around. I don’t have to assume that I am being kept out of conversations. I have made an imprint and people see me. If I don’t have a seat at the table, I have the tools and the resources to build my own chair and my own table. I have people who love and support me. I still have more work to do even when programs no longer exist. There is something new that should be birthed at any given time.
Is there something we didn’t ask that you’d like to discuss?
Support POCs (People of Color) in every position in this world. Let’s work to create safe spaces for bodies of color to exist and thrive. Safe spaces at work. Safe spaces on the street. Safe spaces in this world. Honor our voices. Honor our intellect. Honor our trauma. Honor our divine place in this world. May you always have a seat at the table for us. May you always make sure that we are seen and heard.
MORE ABOUT MORGANA WILBORN
The director on the play Loving and Loving, about the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage in the U.S., opening at Bishop Arts Theatre Center.
Bishop Arts Theatre Center’s regional premiere of Loving and Loving gives voice to the story of the Supreme Court case that invalidated laws against interracial marriage.