Class of 2017: Oriana Miles Hopes to Create Change Through Education By Bringing Her Theater Talent Home

As a senior in high school, Oriana Miles was admitted to NYU to study psychology when she learned that her beloved high school drama teacher was retiring. What would happen to the theater company that had such a profound effect on her and was a staple of Schenectady High School’s artistic community?

Miles promptly walked to her guidance counselor’s office and began the process of transferring into NYU Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program, the first step on a path preparing her for a future of teaching theater.

Theater has always been an important art form to Miles, given its ability to foster empathy. But Miles also sees it as a transformative tool to engage students in subjects like social studies and science. For instance, she can teach about Japanese culture through kabuki theater, use drama in history lessons about the American Revolution, or help students take public speaking skills from the stage to an interview.

Over the past four years, Miles has grown as a theater professional herself, taking on many roles both on stage and behind the scenes as an actor, stage manager, director, playwright, and student teacher in New York City public schools.

As assistant director and stage manager of Shakespeare to Go, an Educational Theatre outreach program, Miles helped bring modern adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night to New York City schools.

As a playwright, Miles wrote about the experience of being a person of color at NYU, weaving together interviews with members of the campus community with her own personal stories.

But her most exciting role is still in the future — as a teacher.

“I find myself daydreaming about what my curriculum will be like one day,” Miles said. She embraces a student-centered approach to teaching called culturally responsive pedagogy, which helps students connect course content to their own cultures. In Miles’ view, this might entail students choosing the plays that they perform and writing their own.

Next year, Miles will continue at NYU in a one-year master’s program in Educational Theatre. After that, she hopes to return to Schenectady to take the reins of her high school’s theater program.

“I figured out that the best way I can create change is through education,” said Miles.