First, an admission:
Last night I gave myself a small break on the blog to close WELCOME TO CAMPUS at Drexel University.
Second, a short diversion:
I like the final product of CAMPUS for a lot of reasons. I’ve loved the process even more. I could go on a lot about this piece, why I feel like it’s the personal, intimate kind of work that theater ought to be doing in the digital age. If you haven’t seen any of the press for the show, it’s is a traveling campus tour that tells true stories exploring what the college experience is actually like in the spaces around campus that a traditional tour might not take you to. We went into dilapidated dorms, anonymous classrooms, cram into elevators, and stand in the stunning atria of the campus’s spaces. Students emerged from background landscapes to blend the lines between what is real and what is the play. I built it over 16 weeks with the students of Drexel, turning every day students into secret, highly trained public performance ninjas.
There’s a big part of me that just wants to spend this space today rolling around in the wistful sad fact of finishing a process so dear to my heart.
And now back on target:
But it’s gender parity month here at Swim Pony and so I’m taking the proud teacher vibes o’erflowing from me this Monday afternoon and sending them in a slightly different direction.
2013-2104 has been the Year Of Teaching for me. It’s the first year the training of theater to others has become the majority of my day job income. Teaching, though, has always felt like a kind of performance – one in which my class’s material ought to be as thought provoking and meaningful as any play I might make, one in which my persona ought to be as interesting as any lead character.
I use personal stories a lot in my directing and teaching work. I talk about aspects of the way I live and see the world to try and help myself relate to the material at hand, and hopefully in the process, hear and learn how my students do so as well. It’s a theory based in a kind of lemming bravery principle: if you see me jump off a scary cliff into the action of the scene or the idea from the reading and dive into the messy complexity of my own life, you are likelier willing to do the same.
I try to be honest with them. I try not to only paint in the nicer aspects of myself. And in this vein if we’re doing something that seems weird or silly or just plain not working, I usually will acknowledge the feeling. I try to explain to them why I make creative choices, to not only get them to execute an action but to understand why I am aiming for this particular choice and not another. I do this because when it works well, I soon find myself with students who are able to think about and question those choices. And sometimes offer new ones that are even better than the initial ones I’ve proposed.
This past year, I’ve also become particularly aware of things like this:
- A book I use for my voice class (a book I love and use all the time) has a couple weird sentences about how women place their voices
- A scene in a classical play I’m staging with students offhandedly mentions a woman as the weaker sex
I might know that a couple of paragraphs in the voice textbook are problematic but find the book still worth using. I might realize that there’s a historical context for the scene I’m directing but still think it important enough for other reasons to include. But I’m realizing that unless I say that, I run the risk of not communicating those caveats. And by not bringing it up, by not pointing it out, by not having the conversation I have in my head out loud with the little people in front of me, it’s possible that I’m passing along a tacit complicity with the aspects material that I don’t subscribe to.
It’s the same questions from a couple of days ago:
Are we aware?
Are conscionably contextualizing?
Take a classical work where a female character’s whose worth is hugely determined by her virginity status.
The reason for reading this text might be the beauty of the language or the significance of the author and play to theater history or possibly to see the first emergence of a theatrical device that occurs in the play. This might be why you want them to read this work.
Is the reason also that you agree with the implicit moral assumption that young women must wait until marriage to have sex or they are tainted and less valuable?
It might seem obvious that the outdated gender morals underpinning the action of the play are contained to the world of that play, that obviously you as the professor don’t feel that a women should be stoned or banished or shamed for being a sexually active adult. It might seem obvious that the trope of the tragic heroine undone by her loss of innocence isn’t something you actually think about the real young women sitting in the room with you.
When you say it out loud it seems obvious. This is exactly my point. You need to make sure that it’s obvious. Because if you don’t say it, how can they know?
I try to pass on the sensibility that every artist actor, director, playwright alike, is the author of his or her own artistic experience. That we all have choice and agency and therefore responsibility in the material we present and engage in. That whether we are in the position of learning versus expertise, it is still incumbent on us to have thoughts and opinions about the work they engage in and that we must examine and decide if we accept into ourselves and how we do so.
If we don’t, we run the risk of perpetuating the same things we’re frustrated by.
If we don’t share all the lessons we have to offer our students, we risk passing on others we never intended.