Tuesday, December 6, 2016


When people ask each other where they trained, what they're asking is, what did you study. Not just "clown" or "bouffon" or "physical theater"—they know you studied that. But did you study "Eye Control"? Did you study "Delightful Gestures"? Did you take classes in "Fucking Awesomeness", or were you born that way?

In the past I've made the mistake of answering that question by naming this theater teacher or that. But the truth is, other people have trained a lot more with those people or in actual grad schools, and I haven't. I'll tell you where I really trained. I trained in pleated pants and wingtips teaching The Scarlet Letter to tenth graders in a New York City prep school. I trained by being a high school English teacher.

Here's the thing about New York prep school students: either their parents have MOHNAY or those kids are AWESOME and on MAD SCHOLARSHIP. Either way, you're not dealing with what commonly comes to mind when people think of high school students in America. You're dealing with kids who mostly want to be there, at the very least, they want the bells and whistles associated with wanting to be there. Grades and recommendations and internships and law school and eventual second homes. So as a teacher you've got a real advantage there.

But that doesn't mean your students want to be in class. They show up, they did the homework, but let's be serious, how many kids would rather discuss The Scarlet Letter than do anything else on earth? One or two a year, tops. Little English teachers-in-training.

Most of the kids I had in class were initially distrustful of my ability—of any teacher's ability—to really hold their interest and inspire them. I had to prove myself. It wasn't crucifixion/StandAndDeliver-hard to prove myself, but it was still a learned skill. And it was satisfying, to see them fall in love with old musty books, even a little bit, to see them believe me when I said The Scarlet Letter was the sexiest book ever written about Puritans. I must have convinced them, or they would never have enthusiastically pointed out the double meaning of that rose bush, or that flogger, or that pumpkin patch.

With your average show audience, a performer is facing a similar vibe to that prep school classroom—at least if the performer is not famous (audiences for famous people are different, slavering things). The audience members have made the time for you, they got the tickets, they put on pants, but they still need convincing.

I put in lots of hours exploring how to keep the energy up in a room full of sleepy teenagers for an hour.
That's where I trained.

And if I could tell all performers where to train and they'd listen to me, I'd say, teach teach teach. Teach something worth learning. And more importantly, teach people who would rather be elsewhere doing something else.

I think that's probably what I need to start doing more of, again.  

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes. This is SO true! Now that I think about it, my best lessons came from sceptical classrooms.


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