Davia Schendel: Storyteller hones her craft at NYU

With new college degrees in hand, graduates from the high school Class of 2014 are taking exciting next steps into the world. Davia Schendel has moved from Los Angeles to graduate school at NYU. She shares her story.

Tell us about your educational path?

I recently graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television with an undergrad degree in June 2018, and will be continuing my graduate studies in theater, film and music at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. My area of study surrounds storytelling, whether it be through the mediums of theater, film, or music.

Essentially, I will be studying my craft as a writer and director by developing and producing projects, as well as investigating certain philosophical aspects of human experience through the stories I will be telling. In a way, I am returning to the integrative education style that Waldorf encourages – practice that goes hand in hand with analysis.

My role in society as a storyteller, essentially, is to provide experiences that unify communities, and initiate dialogue. The films or plays that have fascinated me the most often provide a new perspective on life, or challenge me to change my own structure of thinking, and this is what I strive to do on my own artistic journey.

I am also really drawn to stories of revolutionary women whose legacies have been passed over by historians in favor of their male counterparts. I was lucky to be able to attend Waldorf where we learned about many of these women, who were activists, pioneers, and artists, however, even today, so many young women still do not have the confidence to pursue their interests due to the lack of representation in media, which nowadays has become so saturated through all aspects of culture. In my plays and films I want to depict female characters who are comprehensive, ambitious and intellectual, working alongside their colleagues and leading in their communities. As an artist, I hope to enlighten audiences so that they can walk away from hearing a story and be elevated on another level of consciousness– as if they have grown a pair of wings that allows them to fly above the world and see it with a refreshed and comprehensive perspective.

How has SFWS influenced your plans and perspectives?

My education at SFWS has proved to be a touchstone of experience; one that I reference time and time again, especially when I am working on a creative project. At school I was able to pursue all my creative interests, from music composition to experimental filmmaking, and I was often encouraged to do so for my own development as an artist and human being.

Being able to have so many skill sets in my arsenal is essential, especially as a writer, director and an actor– you need to be able to draw from the diverse experiences that humanity offers to be able to create worlds, as well as the characters who live within them. For example, studying Goethe's Faust with David Weber, or Parzival with Joan Caldarera, proved to be incredibly valuable, as I became fascinated with the "hero's journey" and how this archetypal storyline is a pattern seen in all of our favorite legends. Understanding these story arcs not only gave me perspective to what makes a compelling journey for an audience, they also prepared me for the adventure that is life–and how to navigate it.

The sciences also provided a perspective on existence. In Astronomy, which was taught by Paolo Carini–orbits and measurements of time are relative and unique to each celestial body. This can also apply to life – every person's experience is relative, or different, and it is vital to exercise viewing the world from different perspectives. Often, when I write a script or play a character, I practice looking from multiple viewpoints to create a new individual. This is essential to the craft of storytelling – one must inhabit many worlds, through objective and subjective lenses, and from there, create a new experience for an audience.

Any other reflections or connections from your school experiences?

My education at Waldorf taught me that being able to make something, whether a loaf of bread or a Wimshurst machine, was an imperative skill to have as a human being. To be able to gather materials, learn the steps (or create the instructions all by yourself), and then produce something encompasses so many elements of learning. Developing this practical flexibility expanded my breadth of ability, and has given me confidence when approaching a creative project.

In 2017, for example, I embarked on writing and directing two plays at UCLA, Fourteen Lines and Beatniks, both which required collaboration and versatility. Having had these practical experiences at Waldorf, I was able to embark on a theatrical journey that began with conceptual mediation (script writing), communication (dialogue with directors/producers) and practice (rehearsal, collaboration with the actors). Having this independence when working on high school projects cultivated my own sensibilities and methodologies, which have supported the next part of my artistic journey – the evolution of my own style or aesthetic.

In terms of experiences at SF Waldorf High School that elevated my interests in the arts, I can thank Kelly Lacy for introducing me to American theatrical conventions, which sparked my interest in modern, dry comedies as well as tenacious dramas. In addition, Astrid Thiersch provided me the profound experience of being a member of the Eurythmy Troupe. Being able to tell a story through movement, as well as physicalize sounds and music, has become a part of my performing and directing approach. Also, being able to tour the world with the Troupe taught me that the arts can be a transcendent link between two cultures; a mode of exchanging peaceful dialogue in an increasingly divisive world.

Any advice for current students?

Take every opportunity you can as a student – pursue all your interests! Also, cultivate relationships with the stellar faculty. If you really enjoy how a professor teaches a class, go to their office hours and discuss the material at depth with them. These relationships will prove to be so valuable, even as you go on to college and beyond.

When you go on field trips, look around, take in the scenery and meditate on the themes that you have learned in class. Integrate your studies in the sciences and arts, and find the connections between all the subjects you are studying. Collaborate with your peers on projects inside and outside of school– I was lucky to work on many school plays and short films with a great group of friends. Go to poetry readings held by Portal, take hikes in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, support your student athletes, and participate in school plays. Try to see from every perspective and take full advantage of the beautiful, diverse community that Waldorf has created.