As much as theatre is an art form, the act of teaching theatre is also an art form. One has to be able to work creatively, objectively, compassionately and collaboratively. We need to be able to pass our knowledge on to our students and create a safe environment for them to explore, create, and take risks. We want to encourage our students to not be afraid to fail, because most of the time true success only comes after many failures. In order to grow as a theatre artist one needs to be experimenting and trying new things, and learning from mistakes in order to get better. We need to be giving our students a solid foundation and encouraging them to make our methods their own. Theatre is an ever evolving art form in which one simply cannot play it safe if they truly want to be a theatre artist.
I come from a Stanislavski based approach to teaching theatre. Stanislavski was very much an experimental theatre teacher, encouraging his students to try and if they would fail he would make them think about why they failed and how they could learn from that experience. With his system, I think it is important that we teach our students how to access their emotional memory and use those experiences to help them react in the moment to the given circumstances, and always ask the “What if” question. Many modern acting methods are based off of Stanislavski’s teachings and I believe in order to better understand the methods of Hagen, Meisner, Adler, or Strasberg you need to first have a grasp on Stanislavski. Research has shown that all students learn in a variety of ways, and the same is true for theatre students. So even though my teaching style is based in the works of Stanislavski, I often times incorporate more modern exercises and techniques of Adler, Meisner, Uta Hagen, Robert Cohen, and/or Viola Spolin.
When it comes to teaching acting and directing I am very much a workshop based instructor. As I mentioned before, we need to be creating safe environments for our students to explore their abilities. In order to do that we need to be comfortable with one another in the class room. I think that it is very important to spend a lot of time early on with workshops that revolve around ensemble building and trust work with fellow students. This work tends to break down barriers and encourages students to push their comfort zone as well as begins to make bonds with each other that will last throughout the semester and perhaps for years to come.
I see teachers of theatre as more of a guide than a drill instructor, it is our responsibility to open our students up to new ideas. Every exercise that we focus on whether it is: leading centers, prop physicalization, open scene work or simply observing people, will give students a new “tool” for their acting and/or directing “tool box.” I also think that it is important for us to stress to our students that for every single play, scene and/or character they should be exploring different ways to achieve the desired emotional state by using different tactics to find and follow their goals and objectives. As with real life no two situations are exactly the same with characters, what worked for one character will not necessarily work for another character. I feel that with a strong Stanislavskian base, actors can more easily identify what works for them in order to “find the truth” of the character and to “live in the moment.”
When it comes to teaching directing, I am also very much a workshop oriented teacher and director of theatre. I believe that it is best to learn directing on your feet and experimenting with various techniques, exercises and workshops. There are many basics of theatre that every director needs to know. These include but are not limited to: stage directions, body positions, spatial awareness, psychological areas and various forms of script analysis. With this being said, I also believe that there are ways to create exercises in a sort of step by step manner so directors can focus more of their attention on certain aspects of directing work which can then be culminated into a final production or performance that combines all aspects of the workshop process.
I believe that beginning directors should start with non-verbal scenes. In a non-verbal scenes the director must get their actors to effectively communicate the situation without overly indicating or pantomiming. Through careful observations and workshops, I believe a director can learn non-verbal forms of communication and body language are just as effective, if not more effective than verbal communication. Only once a director has a sufficient grasp on this, are they able to move on to the next step, such as adding dialogue to the scenes. After they add dialogue, then they can start working on justified movements, then after this step they can move onto ground plans. This is just one example of a step by step approach to directing that I believe is important to all students of directing.
I also highly believe that directors need to be taught that theatre is a collaborative process. I believe the best theatre comes from a team effort of a group of artists working together. Whenever possible I like young directors to experience what it is like working with designers, and playwrights. A director needs to know how to effectively communicate their vision of a production to this team so that they are all working towards the same goal. The most effective directors I have had the pleasure to work with have had excellent communications skills. They have been able to describe their visions to others and are willing to listen to ideas of the designers. Young directors need to learn and experience this before getting out into the “real world.” They need to learn how to be assertive but compassionate, firm but open and need to learn that keeping the lines of communication open is key to any successful production.
Above everything else, I think the best way for anyone to learn acting or directing is simply by trying. Every single time an actor takes the stage, or a director does a show will be a completely new experience. A director will find that they need to be flexible because how they handled a situation in one production may not work on another. I believe actors and directors can learn from each other, and I believe learning the craft of acting and directing is a never ending process.