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Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

Thoughts for the Teaching Artist is devoted to an ongoing exploration of the role of the arts in education. I believe that the arts are an integral, essential part of every person's education. Arts education develops 21st Century Learning Skills, supports all core subjects, creates empathy & builds bridges, and helps develop voice & vision.

The views expressed in Thoughts for the Teaching Artist are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other persons or organization.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Blessings of a Missed Entrance

“Isn’t wonderful how the show just comes together at the end!” The curtain has fallen, and someone’s mom, or grandma, or doting auntie is all smiles. Congratulations are certainly due to the student actors and crew members, and although I always smile and nod, my inner monologue is expressing anything but agreement.

As every Teaching Artist knows, there is little left to chance in any arts education experience. It takes a great deal of strategic thinking, careful planning and plain hard work to achieve the desired outcome, especially an outcome that looks like it all just “comes together at the end.”

Like most arts educators, I work very hard to keep the focus on the students’ process throughout the rehearsal period and let the final product take care of itself. However, to do that requires a strict daily rehearsal plan, a willingness to accept imperfection along the way and the constant reminder that adult egos have no place in arts education. When Teaching Artists focus on the quality of students’ works as validation of their own worth as artists, the students are no longer being served.

Theatre is my particular discipline, and I certainly love a good show as much as the next person. I want my students to have a great experience during the rehearsal process, culminating in a production in which they can be genuinely proud of what they have accomplished. I am focused on student success every moment of every rehearsal. I use every teaching skill and performance trick I have accumulated over many years as an actor, director, writer and teacher. I explain, encourage, cajole, insist, cheerlead, demonstrate and inspire. I do whatever it takes to get the best performance from every member of the cast. But ultimately, they must be allowed to fail.

This is the secret weapon of the first dress rehearsal. By allowing students to fail while still in the protected environment of rehearsal, we are giving them the greatest educational opportunity possible. Through a myriad of mistakes, dropped lines, misplaced props, mangled dances and the inevitable missed entrance, students are forced to take responsibility for their own work. It is through these “mistakes” that the greatest learning happens. The student who misses his entrance, and accepts personal responsibility for doing so, will never miss that entrance again.

If there is truly magic in the theatre, it happens somewhere between the first tech/dress rehearsal and opening night. Grounded in hours of preparation, student actors are finally prepared to enter the crucible of live performance. If I have done my job well, they will be able to do so with confidence and joy. But ultimately, they must take the final steps on their own.

1 comment:

  1. And, they take those steps alone in a way they can't with "team sports," where the coach is ultimately responsible for putting team players in and out and shouting directions in realtime. The coach is always altering the sports performance throughout the game. In ensemble production, all "players" share responsibility for doing their best and fixing issues on-the-fly. No time for backstabbing, assigning blame, analyzing deeply. At its finest, the experience is transcendent, that rare zenith in which everyone is pulling in the same direction, with the same intent, as though all rowing a boat to the same cadence without the aid of a coxswain.