Monologue Day in class today. Yes, there was real theatre– some wonderful moments in both classes. But the best moment of all was when one of my Shakespeare students put up her hand at the end of class and asked, “Can we do another one of these?” as a number of her classmates chorused their approval.
This from the students who originally moaned, groaned, and grumbled at the prospect of having to do a monologue at all.
*does professorial happy dance*
I’ll freely admit that some days are tough in the classroom, but today I win.
“Get on your feet!”
(Cue 1980’s dance sequence. Go ahead– I’ll wait.)
This time of year, when everyone’s drained, classrooms can easily become swirling vortexes (or vortices) of exhaustion, and my students appear to have been replaced by a collection of open-mouthed dead fish…I take Gloria’s advice, and get everyone on their feet.
(Yes, they’re mostly English majors. No, they’re mostly not actors. Don’t care. Up everyone gets.)
All my undergrads have to do oral performances each semester, where they have to get up (in a random order determined by my literally drawing their names out of a hat) and give a memorized rendition of any segment of any play we’re discussing in class. So that certainly gets them up on their feet– and before we even begin, I make everyone stand up and we do a few stretches and silly moves to warm and wake everyone up (what else is the hokey pokey for, I ask you?). When the light comes back to their eyes and the energy in the room rises exponentially, we’re ready.
Then theatre– as an action, not just a subject of discussion– can happen. Everyone learns far more that day than they expect to, in ways they often don’t anticipate.
Performance day is tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a good day.
From a student after I’d explained to her and her group-mates why some aspects of their recent presentation were problematic:
“So, in the paper we have to write about this, is it okay if I write about what I learned because I got things wrong here?”
I answered that it absolutely was. And gave her a high-five. And may well have uttered the word “booyah.”
Somehow it’s so very easy to lose sight of this fact, but this really is what we all do, ideally: we try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Repeat ad infinitum.
Exactly the same practices apply to theatre: when I trained at the School at Steppenwolf a few summers ago, I ran smack-bang into the wall of my long-ingrained perfectionism. Repeatedly. But after enough repetition and my own messy meltdowns in Meisner class and hearing the improv mantra “If you’re gonna fuck up, fuck up big!” day after day, it finally sank in: perfection is boring. It’s stagnant. People don’t go to the theatre to see perfect creatures– they go to watch human beings be fully human (including screwing up) in all kinds of ways. Oddly enough, the “messier” and more imperfect I became, the better my acting seemed to get.
Moral Of The Story: “Getting it right” is only useful if you learn something along the way, and how can you do that if you don’t realize what doesn’t work? So make those mistakes: show us what you got! Doesn’t work? Try something else!
…that no performance, paper, or race can do without?
All the technique in the world won’t mean a blasted thing without that energy animating the action. Precision is wonderful, but if the actor, writer, or athlete doesn’t care about what they’re doing, nobody else will.
(Why yes, it’s late-term-paper season. And fall-show season. And end-of-race season around here.)
I do my damnedest to come up with potentially interesting essay topics for my students to work with, but at times I could absolutely weep at the dry-as-dust formulaic responses I get in return.
I suppose it’s a useful reminder of the limitations of teaching: I can model reading skills, work on writing technique, and show my classes just how passionate I am about what I teach, but that’s it. Ultimately, I have to let go and see what they bring to the process. Sometimes that will be less than I’d hoped. (Sigh.) But sometimes, the result will be far beyond what I might have guessed– I guess that’s the hope that keeps the process going, even when we’re all tired at this time of year.
(Lo, NaPoWriMo continueth apace amid the dreaded Mountains O’ Grading. More about passion anon.)
How’s that for a term for those words whose misuse is both widespread and utterly crazy-making? (If songs can be worms…)
Like “epic.” Sample sentence: “Oh man, that party on Friday night– Jimmy drank, like, tons, and then puked everywhere. It was epic!”
No, darling, it wasn’t. Not even close. It might have been impressive in your world, but epic it most certainly was not.
Have you read any classical stories? How about Norse mythology? A whole hall full of gods and warrior heroes, all with more or less nothing to do but drink while they wait for the end of the world. (Notice how the tales are never told from the perspective of the inevitable servants who have to wrangle this centuries-long mead-fest, by the way?)
Valhalla vomit– now that is epic. Anything else is just messy.
…the sun is shining, and it’s as warm as it’s going to get for the next few weeks, if not months, and the leaves scatter in the wind that catches at your hair, and the light bounces off the buildings at particular angles that cause shimmering lines on the sidewalks so that everything looks different, almost new, for a brief moment as you pass by on a walk.
Such days are meant for being, really, not for being told things. On such days, then, I like to let the stories around me unfold as they will, and leave the analysis of other stories for another time.
Life happens now. Essays will wait for a day.
It’s really very simple: I love to teach because I love to learn.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a great deal of fun to be had in introducing other people to the stuff I already know I love and happen to know a fair amount about. Watching the light bulbs go off above students’ heads is one of the great joy-inducers of educational life. (Insert Professorial Happy Dance* here.)
But if there’s one thing I love more than watching someone understand something, it’s realizing that I now understand something I didn’t before: mind-expansion and new ideas are the sources of sheer delight. Wow, I never knew that before– the whole world just reorganized itself a little bit and now I can see everything differently…whoa. And hey, what about that thing over there? What’s going on there? Really? No way! Daaaammnn… Cool! Can I have some more, please?
No wonder I so enjoy helping others reach that gleeful state.
*There are several, in fact, including the Lightbulb Dance, the You Just Introduced Me To A New Idea Dance, the That Class Totally Rocked Dance, and the ever-so-popular Got My Grading Done Dance, among others. Faculty Sock Hops are fascinating, trust me.