ACC talks Black History Month: Marcus McQuirter

Throughout Black History Month, Austin Community College (ACC) sits down with influential and accomplished faculty and staff to discuss what Black History Month means to them.

Meet Marcus McQuirter, the chair of ACC’s Drama Department. He received his BFA in Theatre Arts from Howard University in Washington D.C. and an M.A. in Theatre from the University of North Texas. He earned a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Read more about him below.

What is your position at ACC and when did you start at the college?

I am currently serving as chair of the Drama Department. I joined the college in 2006 to teach Voice, Acting, and Introduction to Theater and became chair in 2012.

Why do you think it’s important for the college to commemorate Black History Month?

Our department moved to ACC Highland in fall 2018. The land the campus occupies was once a mall, but it was also the site of the St. John’s encampment. Long before the Texas Relays, Black folks from across the state of Texas (and beyond) gathered in this place every year for sermons, revivals, classes in business and agriculture, music, entertainment, and fellowship. The rest of the year, Black folks were still here. We were part of the economy, part of the social fabric of the city. Politically active. Artistically indispensable. I don’t think that you can tell the true story of this city or of this country without telling the story of the Black Experience. That sentiment hasn’t always been the case. At some point you have to cordon off an area of public consciousness and reintroduce those missing stories back into the common narrative.   

What figure in Black History would you most like to meet and why?

I’d love to meet my great grandmother. I never knew her but have heard stories. A fierce one, that.

What are some personal or professional accomplishments you are most proud of?

My family. I am also proud of the work we are doing in the department, both within our productions and in the classroom. I am excited to contribute to the new Peace and Conflict Studies curriculum at ACC. I am also proud of the work I’ve done as a board member for local theater and for national scholarship foundations.  

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned?

Fail forward. As a spouse, parent, teacher, and artist I have discovered that failure is an inevitable part of life. It hurts, it stings, it will leave a mark. When that pain subsides, if you can take the “lesson” and plow it into tomorrow, you grow. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to learn. I try to bring that idea to the classroom, because if students are afraid to fail a little bit, they don’t grow. Of course, if the failure is soul crushing and debilitating, they don’t grow either. As a teacher, a lot of my work is to create trust and build a safety net — things that allow students to experiment, fall down, get up, and move forward with a new vision of their future.  

Sometimes it works…

What advice would you give emerging leaders?

I think you have to find the middle way, the Golden Mean if you will, between your personal commitment to a project and the ability to trust your team to do what they do best. On the one hand, you have to sweat as a leader. Leadership is not an empty endeavor where you generate an idea and delegate all else. Roll up your sleeves and dedicate your mind, body, and soul to help make that idea a reality. A lot of leadership work is in preparation. In other words, do your homework. Do research. In the theater we also say, “cast well.” My best experiences as a member of a production have been with directors and producers who are deeply prepared and who have assembled a great team. They are the folks who, once the train leaves the station, don’t micromanage. They establish the lanes and let people excel at their task. Provide guidance, support and material, a clear path toward the ultimate goal, then get out of the way.  

Sometimes it works…

Why is it important to seek out and value diverse perspectives?

Because inbreeding causes sickness. Ideas and perspectives need to be cross-pollinated, challenged, reconstructed, and challenged again. As a species we face a lot of problems, and it is going to take a variety of perspectives to address them if we are to leave a habitable corner of the universe for the next seven generations.On the lighter side, engaging diverse perspectives is fun and interesting. Same-old same-old can get dull.

How are you building bridges between communities?

The beautiful thing about theater is that you get a range of different people in the same room, breathing the same air. We’re doing that through productions and by expanding the range of materials we tackle in class. As a department, we are continually partnering with other entities and institutions to broaden our communities’ experiences. Maybe most importantly, I teach acting. The foundation of good acting is listening. It’s a bit touchy-feely, but I think the art of listening does not get nearly enough play in educational settings (among others). Yet it is the foundation of conflict resolution and the building of bridges between communities.

What inspires you?

Collard greens.  

What is your ultimate goal?

I’m not sure yet…

 

Comments

Your comments are inspiring, Marcus, and a great representation of your life, our community, and the goals we have at ACC! I could especially resonate with the intentions and approach to teaching and leading. And, indeed, sometimes it works... Thanks for being here and contributing!

You're one the best teachers ever. Aside from collard greens, what motivates you on a day today basis?

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