Mary Emily Deal is giving back to Georgia State through teaching and directing

Mary Emily Deal is giving back to Georgia State through teaching and directing at the school of film, media and theatre. Photo by Ayesha Patel | The Signal

Mary Emily Deal, a theater professor at Georgia State, has been performing since the third grade. 

“I have always enjoyed acting, or back then I just called it playing,” Deal said. “I was always dressing up and pretending to be someone else. The first time I remember actually wanting to be an actor, I was very young, and I wanted to be in commercials, but I was concerned that if I became an actress, I might have to say things about a product I didn’t like, … and I thought it was illegal to say something that wasn’t true. I tried not to be an actress, because I didn’t want to be faced with that moral dilemma.”

However, Deal’s third grade performance as Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” had her hooked on acting. 

“I have tried not to be an actor so many times throughout my life, but it always pulls me back in,” she said.

Deal lived in New York for a period of time, working as a temporary employee at Citibank and living off of the two cheeseburger deal at McDonald’s.

Following this, she moved back to Georgia to teach at Piedmont College and discovered a brand-new interest in her life: a love for teaching. The administrative skills she honed at Citibank proved useful, and she was promoted to associate professor and department chair.

Then, Deal began her time at Georgia State.

“My hope and true mission at [Georgia State] is to help build a new way of looking at teaching acting,” she said. “Instead of teaching to the platform such as theatre versus film, we teach actors the craft of acting and then teach them the technical skills they need to adjust their performance for each. In today’s world, an actor needs to be able to move fluidly between stage and screen and new and evolving media.”

This mission is in part made possible by a decision made by the university.

“We are really in a lucky position, because just a few years ago, [Georgia State] created the new College of [the] Arts pulling music, art and film and theater out of the [College] of Arts and Sciences, and they created the new School of Film, Media and Theatre,” Deal said. “This gave a new breath to the theater program by connecting it with film and this allowed the natural progression of being able to teach acting for not only theater but also for film and other types of media.”

Deal, along with the other professors at the School of Film, Media and Theatre, has the goal to give opportunities for students to express themselves through their own work, rather than the work of their teachers. 

“I think one of the greatest things we are trying to build is an opportunity for the unique and diverse voices of the GSU student body to be heard in a structured and significant way,” she said. “For the last year we have been connecting students to one another by having the dramatic writing and screenwriting students taught by Sojourna Collier to write pieces that are then performed by acting students and directed by directing students.”

This is just one of many projects Deal and her counterparts have put together to showcase students’ talent and creativity. 

“In spring of 2019, we had our first Night of Sexy Shorts, which consisted of students’ written work that had either been filmed by the students in the Acting and Directing for the Camera class taught by Susan G. Reid or staged readings from the Acting II class Susan and I both taught last spring,” Deal said.

Not only is Deal trying to make student voices heard, but she is also trying to bring light to issues that may affect Georgia State students and Atlanta as a whole.

“This fall, we had the first ever ‘Give Back’ series that focuses on an issue and giving back by raising awareness,” she said. “This program was led, produced and coordinated by Susan G. Reid. It was called ‘Trafficked,’ and it was student written, acted, and directed all around the subject of human trafficking.”

This program, however, is just the beginning for the “Give Back” series. 

“Our next [project] is ‘The Vagina Monologues’ to raise awareness [about] violence against women,” Deal said. “I’m overseeing and producing this event along with Camilla Pham of Student Health Promotions. I think we have 19 students involved in this production. [Student Health Promotions] will be providing counselors to be on hand for anyone who may be triggered by the performance. We also plan to have a talk back after the performance on the 13th to discuss these issues [and] collect feminine hygiene products and donate to an organization that assists victims of violence.”

Outside of her hard work at Georgia State, Deal is the single mother of two teenagers. In her free time, she meditates, writes and does yoga. She has completed her energy healing training, a form of alternative medicine said to promote emotional and physical healing, and is now a reiki master.

Along the way, Deal has learned many lessons from her students, the most prominent being humility. 

“Being the teacher doesn’t make me smarter, [but] it makes me want to be a better student,” she said. “This generation in particular has taught me that the things that my generation took as fact are not facts at all but simply one way of seeing things. I love that students these days are not encumbered by things such as gender or age when they choose material to work on.”

In her life, Deal has become many things: a performer, a teacher, a mother and a role model. But instead of focusing on the milestones of her accomplished life, she instead dwells on the journey and the relationships forged along the way. 

“There are a million stories of costume mishaps, forgotten lines, choking back laughter, but most of all, it is about the relationships with people who love the same things as you do,” Deal said.