Student Org. Spotlight: Educational Theatre Collaborative offers artistic freedom to students

The ETC began in fall 2008, after founders Jenny Sawtelle-Koppera and Meriah Sage returned from Scotland’s Imaginate Theatre Festival.

While there are many activities students might get involved with on campus, there is only one that promotes creation for the sake of creation, art for art’s sake: the Educational Theatre Collaboration of Eastern Michigan University.

There are no finished products, no grades and no competitions. Just pure artistic sharing, according to Jenny Sawtelle-Koppera, co-president of ETC.

The ETC is working to bring advocacy, community and opportunity for exploration in the field of educational theater to EMU, according to its mission statement.

After a trip to Scotland’s “Imaginate Theatre Festival” in May 2008, founders Jenny Sawtelle-Koppera and Meriah Sage returned to EMU and began the ETC in the fall of that year.

“We found out that artists there sometimes receive funding to collaborate – with no product necessary. This blew our minds!” Sawtelle-Koppera said.

“Imaginate,” held in Edinburgh, Scotland, operates on the belief that regular access to a diverse range of performing arts activities serves to entertain, enrich, teach and inspire youth, according to its Web site.

Sawtelle-Koppera and Sage began the ETC, with the help of associate professor Jessica “Decky” Alexander, with that model in mind. Since 2008, the group has held multiple incubators and workshops, visited other cities to work on its craft and participated with the annual AMPlifying the Arts festival on campus.

Saturday, Feb. 13, the ETC is hosting another incubator. The incubators, held on Saturdays approximately every six weeks, are what the group is all about.

A collection of artists work together on a given topic associated with educational theater such as space, lighting, scale and paper, according to the group’s Web site.

Because the incubators are not focused on a finished production, they provide a safe environment for artists to risk new ideas and inspire one another to develop new techniques and art. As of now, they have tentative plans to explore a new script by professor Patricia Zimmer, to do some mime workshops, experiment with scrap materials in a production and explore varieties of ideas on specific stories, Sage said.

“We incubate ideas and celebrate exploration,” Sawtelle-Koppera said. “We gather together members to play and each of us brings a unique perspective. We gain so much by simply watching each other… it’s so invigorating.”

The group holds monthly member meetings to develop upcoming themes and ideas for the incubators. Its next meeting is Feb. 27.
Activities like the incubators are not just for the academic school year either. This past summer members of ETC participated in a week-long “Intensive,” in which they traveled to Pittsburgh and committed themselves to creating a new workshop production.

The group developed the original production “Journey Down the Winding Well: Falling into Aesop’s Fables,” which it brought back and performed on campus during the annual AMPlify the Arts Festival in 2009. ETC hopes to make this an annual occurrence.

The group has 10-12 members and is always looking for new recruits. Any EMU graduate and undergraduate students who have an interest in educational theater and a willingness to participate in its collaborative group are invited to join. Membership fees are $20 per academic year and members must maintain good academic standing at EMU.

Interested students may contact Jenny Sawtelle-Koppera at, visit ETC’s Web site or through

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