Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hey. Teacher!

More of you need to download and listen to the songs I linked in my next-to-last post. I'll wait.

Welcome back.

I have been pondering the Education Series that Tom Loughlin (a Yankees fan? feh.) and Scott Walters collaborated on recently. (.pdf compilation here).

As previously mentioned, I am deliberate, and I do deliberate. I wanted to try and clear up the line between what Scott and Tom managed to so clearly outline as their beliefs as to what needs to be done, and what I truly believe for myself.

I am a graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Theatre, emphasis in Secondary Education (no BFA offered, no grad theatre program) and more recently a grad school widow to a woman attending The University of Texas at Austin for her MFA in lighting design. I think that all of these things color my views of theatre education, as they naturally would.

My experiences as an undergrad were very positive, my proxy experience of grad school less so.

What I want out of theatre education.

  1. Truth.
    We need to eliminate the myth of "pre-professional" training. Labeling any program as 'pre-professional" reinforces the lie that there is a profession to be passed on to once you have your diploma in hand. Theatre isn't law. Or medicine. Or finance. There is no national system in place for scouting and placement. And I've yet to come across the audition that asks you to bring two headshots/resumes and your transcript. There ARE institutions where you will make great contacts that may lead to you being seen by folks who can advance you, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with a pre-professional curriculum.
  2. Programs must kill the idea of the Easy A.
    There are many students in larger (unlimited entry) undergrad programs who are theatre majors because it's easier than being a English major. There's less reading, and many programs don't require any sort of practical application of learned skills, or even require an acting class above Acting 1. Whether this is a return to the concept of scholar-artist or not (I am in favor of the return) our educators must demonstrate to their students that there is an immense amount of work to be done to have a degree in theatre. In my curriculum I would require classes in history or crit for all four years. Talent being equal? Give me the lit major over the theatre major every day, and twice on Saturdays and Sundays.
  3. Collaboration
    This is where I shouted my most hearty amen to Tom and Scott's posts. Theatre programs at universities have considerable resources. They often don't feel that way, but they don't get out much. If those resources were shared in even a small way with their local theatre communities it would be a huge boon. I am aware that there are programs that do this with regionals, but it needs to be widespread and move both up and down the chain.

    Fer'instance: here in Austin, The University of Texas at Austin has immense resources both capital and human. Why not, as part of the curriculum, give over the Lab Theatre to be curated by Salvage Vanguard or the Rude Mechanicals? Participants in the linked classes would then, under the tutelage of the guest artists, create pieces that would be performed in the space. The students get to Create. The company gets access to a space and the University creates ties to the community. [yes I'm aware that both named companies in this case HAVE a space]. It also gives the students some idea of the constraints of not working with full department resources behind a project. Also, with stronger ties to the community both on a personal and institutional level, there may be a better shot of keeper some of that talent you've just developed local.
  4. Production
    Wherein I mostly disagree with my Elders.
    More production not less. Big, small, full, reading. Every member of your program should have almost never ending chances to be in SOMETHING. There is no way to figure out how to use the tools you're being given unless you are being asked to use them in a real world(ish) situation. This would also allow the non-stars of your program to get their feet wet.

    Am I disappointed with many universities seasons? Sure. But  seems to me that we should reform the selections not eliminate the lab portion of students educations. My alma mater has (in my lifetime) selected a classical piece, a modern piece, a childrens' piece, a musical, and a mainstage dance concert. Along with class projects their were a TON of opportunities to take advantage of in our (relatively) small program.
  5. Encourage
    Student work. In all ways, in every way. If there is a student production company mentor it, and nurture it. I figured out a whole myriad of things I never would have otherwise in being involved with Mask and Dagger at the University of New Hampshire. In my time at UNH Mask and Dagger went from doing one show a year to producing a season, and from all reports is now operating on something like 5 times our old per show budget all run by students. Programs shouldn't resent the time that it takes away from the department, it's a vital part of  theatre education. Get MORE involved to make sure that folks aren't picking up bad habits maybe, but leave that playground open. My own partner's entree into theatre post high school was as part of a student production, and I was heavily involved for 4 of my five years so I am most definitely biased on this score.

    There is seemingly little of this at The University of Texas at Austin but biannually they present the Cohen New Works Festival. The provide financially support and provide space for the students to roll their own pieces. It is very well attended and innovation is highly encouraged. By all accounts the faculty hate it. It is a huge logistical nightmare. But students walk away with a workshopped show and a sense that THEY can create, they don't need to wait for the mysterious Other to create something for them to work on. Indeed my next production is the result of a short piece my partner created as part of New Works 2005.
  6. Don't lose sight of the undergrads.
    In programs with strong graduate school it is common to focus on the upper level while using the undergrads as a resource bank to keep funds and cheap labor around. Which I understand. It's always more fun to play with better tools, but in order to keep churning out new tools you need to make them.

I'm sure there are big things I'm missing. It's really a mammoth issue and something that needs to be addressed to keep the incredible talent in this country from being underdeveloped or from quitting due to post-college myth destruction.

All I want is literate performers who understand the realities of the post-millenial theatre world in the US and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty in any part of a production from creation to mopping.


  • In my experience, graduates of small programs are more polished and more pro-active than graduates of large programs, regardless of prestige on either side of the equation. I have no answer as to why. It feels important in the quest to solve the larger training issues to figure that out.
    Is it true in you experience?
    Why do you think it is?
  • Why am I having such a hard time coming up with training issues on the technical/design side of the ball? I don't think I'm blind to it. Is technical/design training simply handled better? Or am I missing some really huge flaws there?

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