As a teaching artist, theatre education graduate student, and overall theatre artist I find myself constantly reflecting on my philosophies and approaches and yearnings when it comes to this field I’ve dedicated myself to.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was extremely young. I used to say it as a child, I used to play teacher with my little brother, I was bizarrely taken with the position for unknown reasons.
When I discovered theatre, my entire being changed. I went from a shy, soft-spoken, jittery adolescent to a more confident (if only seemingly), opinionated, strong version of myself. I learned to speak up, stand up, and most importantly stand out. I was driven by the challenges theatre posed to me and I suppose teaching is my chosen craft because it is a daily challenge. Teaching is never a constant – the styles, approaches, and theories are constantly changing, being reconstructed, being redefined. Teaching is a fluid profession that insists whoever takes it on must be ready for anything, must be prepared to never stop learning, to never stop changing.
As a graduate student, I am much more aware of the power and importance of reflection. I’ve become more inquisitive of my own practices and of those that are completely unfamiliar to me. I’m beginning to truly shape my philosophies and I’ve found that in particular I’ve discovered what side I take in the process versus product debate.
Theatre can easily be viewed as a product-driven field. When most of us hear the word theatre we think: performance. We see the curtains rising, the lights fading to black, the costumes, the set pieces, the actors themselves. We see the final product of hours and hours of hard work. Hard work that most people will never come to understand or truly appreciate. It is the kind of hard work that those outside of our field may not understand. It may lead you to wonder, why would anyone work this hard for something so fleeting?
I am here to argue that theatre is not product-driven – at least not when it comes to educational theatre. It is and should be process-driven. The process is where you learn, you grow, you challenge, you question, and you ultimately change. The process is what I love, the process is what I DO. I do not perform as a teaching artist, I assist in the beautiful learning process that creates confident, collaborative human beings. I create challenges for students to overcome, I help them find their own solutions, I stand by as they think critically about what they are creating. I am there in the process. I love the process.
I say all of this because I am currently working on a project where I feel like everyone, but me is focused on the product. I have been given a script for 25 young people to perform (ages 8-10 years old). This script has it all. Music, choreography, potentially flashy costumes, specific characters to create…..it’s fun, it’s beautiful, but it’s a lot. I have 1 rehearsal a week with each cast. Each rehearsal is 75 minutes. I only have a total of 15 rehearsals before performances.
1 huge script demanding not only acting skills, but singing skills and dancing skills as well.
I was told when I started this process and brought up my concerns, “Don’t worry, the expectations are low. This isn’t about the show.”
Well, if it isn’t about the show, why don’t we do a portion of it and make that portion as good as it can be? Why don’t we do a showcase of scenes and songs? Why don’t we focus on the theatre skills and forget the technical theatre aspect? Why am I meeting with designers and worrying about the professional quality of that work when these students don’t have the necessary time to truly grasp this script?
There will be a performance. I will cue most of it. The parents will still inevitably love it, but will the students learn anything?
Is there anything learned when each rehearsal is spent pushing through as much as possible so we can at least say we discussed every scene and song and dance number before the show? What will they learn when the process feels rushed?
Now I’m not saying they will learn nothing. They will learn something, they will learn about working with a director, they will work on following direction, they will work on stage presence, but….in my opinion…nothing life-changing will be worked on. Nothing major like building confidence or working as a team will be delved into, because there simply isn’t the time.
Kids keep missing rehearsals, there are no props yet to work with, we have 9 rehearsals left and we are not quite half way through the script.
It seems like the wrong process. It seems like the wrong focus. It seems like the wrong way to teach theatre. I love what I do, but I have to admit I don’t love how the world sometimes views the theatrical process. Personally, this is not what it is about.
I am sure I will continue to learn immensely from this process, but I know now that the biggest thing I will leave with is the understanding that I believe in the process – and if the process isn’t conducive to learning than that’s not a process I want to be a part of.