Teaching can be hard on a good day. “Am I getting through?” “Am I being heard?” Am I being clear?” “Is this information useful?”
Teaching in the arts, where relativity is not absolute, where content is fluid, where the events that occur that morning or as I walk in the door can affect the lesson in profound ways, takes a special care and patience and fortitude.
I want to teach my students about technique. This is what I call TO DO teaching. “Do this, but don’t do that. Always do this, but sometimes, try this. It is better if you do this for it will be clearer to the audience. If you do not believe your actions on stage how can you ask the audience to believe your actions on stage?” Actors and directors need to know how to do.
I want to teach my students to be smarter. This is what I call TO THINK teaching. It is death to an artist if they have not been taught how to think. Actors and directors who lack a point of view, whose work is not attached to a profound question, will create flimsy work and they will falter. “What is the story you want to tell, why do you need to tell it, and why do you need to share this particular story now?” Without thinking about these questions actors and directors create work that no one wants to watch, work that is easy to dismiss because it lacks a reason for being based on thought. Art is not created in a vacuum and must be attached deeply to both the maker and the world in which it is being made. Actors and directors need to know how to think.
I want to teach my students how TO BEHAVE. I care about professional manners and believe deeply that talent that resides in ill behaved actors and directors is talent that will not flourish. If people do not want to work with you then you will not work. The theatre and film industries are collaborative in nature, and as a result, are based on respect and expected good behavior. Preparation, communication, punctuality, respect, and engagement with others prepare the soil in which good artistic work can grow.
This is my culminating wish, somewhat vague, but at the core of good teaching. I want to teach my students how TO BE. If you roll the previous three objectives into one- TO DO, TO THINK, TO BEHAVE- they add up to one wish I want my student actors and directors to be artists who can deliver their talent with careful thought and passion in a professional manner. I want them to be great artists who know how to make work.
My colleague and friend Diane Kvapil will often say, on particularly challenging days with challenging students, “I don’t want them in my profession.” I used to think this was harsh.
Now I don’t.