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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Teddy Hoffman awarded Watson

Teddy Hoffman ’14 will travel around the world, learning about how theatre can serve as therapy. Photo by Mary Zheng.

Although many seniors struggle to answer the question of what they will be doing upon graduation, Teddy Hoffman ’14 need not worry any longer. As the recipient of a Watson Fellowship, the English and theatre double major will be spending all of next year visiting various theatre companies in New Zealand, India, South Africa and Ghana.

Teddy Hoffman ’14 will travel around the world, learning about how theatre can serve as therapy. Photo by Mary Zheng.
Teddy Hoffman ’14 will travel around the world, learning about how theatre can serve as therapy.
Photo by Mary Zheng.

His project “Marginalized Imaginations: Embracing Global Adaptive Theatres,” will study how these international theatre companies engage with and celebrate individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities.

This fellowship will allow Hoffman to study how theatre companies can change the perception of disabled individuals and how disabled individuals can change the direction of theatre.

“I think that there are some people who put people on a stage who may have a disability, and say ‘We’ve given them a chance to be in the spotlight and that’s great.’ And then there are people who engage in those people and say ‘you have a different perspective than me …what can we do to contribute to the world of theatre in that regard,’” Hoffman said.

Forty-four students nationwide were selected as Watson Fellowship recipients this year. Scholars receive 28,000 dollars from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to use for one year of independent study and study abroad. Grinnell College nominates four students a year to the Watson Scholarship. The application process is rigorous; applicants not only have to write a personal statement and project proposal, but go through interviews on campus to be selected as one of the College’s nominees, as well as sit through one final interview with a Watson representative.

Hoffman has been very engaged and passionate in theatre, which can be seen in his academic endeavors and extracurricular activities. He is a member of the Neverland Players, the student-run theatre group that adapts stories written by local elementary school students into live skits.

Additionally, he was one of four Grinnellians involved in a Mentored Advanced Project with Craig Quintero, Theatre last summer. Hoffman, alongside Alex Hsieh ’14, Quinnita Bellows ’15 and Emma Sinai-Yunker ’15 accompanied Quintero to Taiwan, developing “A Secret for a Secret: Performing the Poetry of Hsia Yu” and performing it at Taiwan’s National Experimental Theatre.

Watson recipients have the freedom to travel anywhere in the world, and thus Hoffman chose theatre communities in locations that he felt would challenge him. To begin his search, he limited himself to English-speaking countries so as to make his trip more communicative.

“I whittled it down to a handful of countries that I thought would challenge me,” Hoffman said. “I tried looking for places that had communities less like the places I’ve been in, and then from there, I just stumbled upon these countries.”

Indeed, the specific communities that he selected are very special.

“In Ghana, there’s a community program that focuses on dramatic and movement therapy for students with autism. It’s an autism awareness care and training program,” Hoffman explained. “In South Africa, there’s a dance company that employs people [with] different body types and neurological capabilities.”

Hoffman went through multiple different project ideas before he came to his current one. Before settling with “Marginalized Imaginations,” Hoffman considered writing his proposal on religious pilgrimages around the world or on activities similar to Neverland around the world.

“My idea went through a couple different drafts … then I started to settle in on dramatic therapy, because that’s a subject I’ve always found interesting,” Hoffman said.

Once Hoffman began toying with his interest in dramatic therapy, he realized that he had always held a passion in the subject.

“I’ve worked in an adaptive theater company in my community since 10th grade, and I babysat a kid who is kind of ‘on the spectrum,’ as they say … we became very close. All of those experiences sort of muddled together with recent academic projects … focused my project in that direction,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman cited a conversation with Assistant Dean and Director of Post-Graduate Transitions Doug Cutchins ’93 as the moment that began to give him confidence in his project idea. Cutchins serves as the College’s liaison to the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.

“I was talking with Doug throughout the whole process, but when I told him about [the dramatic therapy] idea, I kind of threw it out [into our conversation], like ‘I don’t know if this is something, but this is kind of something I’m interested in.’ He was like, ‘Wow, you totally just lit up talking about it.’ Then once I started writing my personal statement, it wasn’t easy, but it became more apparent to me that this was something I was passionate about,” Hoffman said.

“The Watson Fellowship is about finding people, not about finding projects. So it’s less about what stood [out] about Teddy’s application, but what stood out about Teddy,” Cutchins said. “The Watson Fellowship is looking for students of unusual promise; students who you really think have that extra spark, that almost indefinable spark that makes them worth investing in.”

Hoffman ultimately takes his fellowship as a learning experience.

“What I’m really aiming to get out of this is that everybody has a story and everybody has the right to share that story … and no one should have their imagination marginalized,” Hoffman said. “[This fellowship allows me] to immerse myself in this world and see what is being done, is it effective and how it affects the people who are engaged with it. Does it change them? Does it reflect their community’s relationship with disabilities or their country’s relationship with disabilities?”

Cutchins praised Hoffman’s passion in his interests and believes he will make the most out of his year abroad.

“I think that when you meet Teddy, you see that he is deeply passionate in what he does, and he has a kind of je ne sais quoi of “Teddy-ness” that makes you say ‘Yeah, this kid is really going somewhere interesting in his life,’” Cutchins said.

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