Turning Shakespeare inside out, classically trained actor Audrey Yatdon used the stage to master a new language, the first step on the path toward earning a Master’s degree from the Applied Linguistics & TESOL program.
As a 15-year-old, Yatdon had recently arrived in the U.S. from his native Cameroon when a classmate suggested he audition for the annual musical production at his suburban high school outside Washington, D.C.
The French-speaking Yatdon nailed the singing audition.
Then, “someone handed me a piece of paper and asked me to read the lines,” he recalls. “My English at that point was still very limited. But I pushed myself, got a part in the ensemble and never looked back.”
Mentored by a drama teacher, Yatdon honed the language through high school, submitted an application to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. and departed in 2016 with an undergraduate degree in theater.
From Sewanee, Yatdon hit the road on an 11-month tour through 25 states with a small company of actors who introduced theater to students in small town classrooms by day while staging productions of Hamlet, The Giver and The Grapes of Wrath by night.
Yatdon eventually found his way to New York City (“I heard there was a shortage of actors in New York,” he cracked), supporting himself with roles in Shakespearean productions here and around D.C.
Home in Maryland after the pandemic disrupted his acting career, Yatdon was stirred to “reprioritize and take a journey within” following the violent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers.
“I realized I wanted to give something back,” he says.
Soul-searching put him in touch with his own story and Yatdon in early 2021 entered a program that prepares students to teach English as a New Language to immigrant children.
Yatdon credits two TC programs for shaping him as an educator. The Teaching Residents at Teachers College offered an actor accustomed to one-day workshops “an opportunity to spend real time with students in real classrooms,” Yatdon explained. “It has been a truly, truly transformative experience. The mentorship is huge; I don’t know if I could have navigated the program without it.”
Meanwhile, for Yatdon , the Teacher Opportunity Corps II created a “space for conversation with other teachers of color at TC and throughout the city.”
The TR@TC and TOC graduate now looks forward to three additional years teaching English immigrant students in the NYC public schools as part of the state requirements.
“I see so much of myself reflected in [the students’] experiences,” he says. “I’ve come full circle.”
Yatdon , his love of the stage undiminished, plans to fit acting around teaching schedules. Most recently, he appeared in Sleep No More, the off-Broadway production at The McKittrick Hotel.
And as he undertakes his newest role in education, Yatdon can’t help but appreciate the shared similarities of a theater and a classroom.
“There are a lot of connections,” he points out. “A lesson plan is like a script; it’s important to keep in mind what your audience is thinking and how they will respond. And there’s improv – it requires you to pick up [on] the energy in the room and use it to fuel your teaching.”