My primary goals as a teacher are twofold. First, my work assists student theatre artists and scholars as they investigate and master the forms, functions, and techniques of the past so that they can help create the theatrical works of the future. However, not all my students pursue careers in theatre, so classes also focus on transferable skills in organizational and interpersonal communication, leadership, self-awareness, and cultural competency. Theatre is an ideal discipline for tackling these learning objectives, not only in the classroom but also through mentorship and advising, guest artist workshops, independent studies and capstone projects. Since each student’s affinity for the material is personal, each journey is unique, although several fundamental tenets shape the framework upon which individualized advanced work is built.
Presenting material within accessible contexts is one important strategy. Theatrical choices are motivated by factors such as function, priorities, censorship, and finances and helping students examine actions together with their causes can greatly enhance their level of engagement. For example, rather than merely teach modern drama chronologically, I group texts for their intentions to uncover “truth” for audiences amid competing notions of function, style, and form. This approach helps students see personal likes and dislikes in light of shared or conflicting values, while it teaches them the methods with which texts and performance pursue their functions with audiences. This organizational framework helps students recognize dramaturgical choices and how techniques of the past can be applied towards their own aesthetic goals.
Another central approach is building experiential learning into coursework, often with the goal of illuminating theory and practice through an exploration of their interactions. For example, my course on performance styles and theories makes room for four individual projects, each focused on one non-traditional actor/audience relationship, and my political/social cabaret class pairs a half-semester study of history, literature, and technique with a month-long series of devised performances. Students use these hands-on investigations to pursue personal aesthetic goals, which in turn makes historical techniques and styles more accessible and memorable.
Teaching acting has its own challenges, since no method succeeds with every student. Once again, I value context, and I foreground basic theories to make the reasons for exercises clear. I believe students should experience multiple approaches; therefore, I focus primarily on Stanislavsky in my directing class, Stella Adler in script analysis, and Meisner in an advanced technique class. Meisner is my way to address two common difficulties among undergraduate actors: staying connected as a listener and responding freely, openly, and safely to collisions between actions and circumstances. However, I am happy for students if they find a different teacher or technique that works better for them.
Finally, I want to challenge students, while also providing support or alternate assignments for those who might struggle. Many theatre students love the discipline and are prepared for hard work, so why not provide a demanding, spirited learning environment, especially given the competitiveness that awaits them post-graduation? Even so, only the budding scholar might fully grasp how to structure a persuasive argument in a long paper, so although all my modern drama students tackle a short research paper at midterms, one can choose either a test or a long research paper as a final assessment. Similarly, everyone needs to take the helm of a short play at the end of directing, so grades hinge on recognizing the effectiveness of choices in the work rather than merely on artistic success. The educational journey should ask students to strive for excellence, but it also should be understandable, enjoyable, and rewarding as it inspires students to become the best theatre artists, scholars, and citizens they can be.