I once paid a lot of money to spend a month in France studying clown and bouffon with a master teacher. I'll call him Riffippe Shmaulier. I spent the month crying. I mean, I was in an adorable little town outside of Paris, living in an adorable little flat and eating the best cheese and pastries, so it wasn't that bad. But considering all the money I had shelled out to work on my craft, it was pretty shitty.
The second-to-last day of class, Master Shmaulier had a former graduate in to assistant teach, kinda. The assistant had us do some martial arts stuff to warm up, cool. Then, when class started and it was my turn to stagger out on stage, terrified as usual, something different happened. The assistant sidecoached me. Not a lot, you know, but he fucking gave me a clue what to do. He gesticulated with his face and body—for a few seconds—to indicate that I should give more, now, a lot, right away. Ohhhh my brain and body said. So then I did that, and I killed the room. Just like that. After almost a month of total failure, one little note changed the game. And I killed the next day too, because a teacher had—oh how shall I put it—taught.
A few years ago, I took a 5-day physical theatre workshop. I flew across country to do it. I was excited about it, the teacher was well-known and respected, I looked forward to a lot of learning. And I definitely learned some stuff; it wasn't all about crying that time, at least. But my first three days, I wasn't "doing it right." I wasn't succeeding on stage. I knew that I wasn't, but I didn't know why. Finally, at the end of Day 3, I asked my teacher point-blank for some feedback, and the teacher gave it. OHHHHHH said my soul. Then I totally got it and found success. But if I had gotten that feedback on Day 1, how much further could I have progressed?
My point here is, there is a philosophy among many performance teachers that you should wallow in your own shit, or, figure it out for yourself. Some of these teachers are just lazy teachers whom nobody taught to be a teacher and they don't want to be a teacher anyway; they want to be on The Daily Show but here they are being a teacher and you are stuck trying to learn from them. They don't give you personal feedback because that would involve them having to think about your feelings and what would best land on you, and they can't do that because their brain is a punchline in the monologue of a late night talk show host, and their heart is a spec script.
But we’re not even talking about those teachers.
We’re talking about teachers who actually care about teaching—and when those teachers are letting you figure it out for yourself, as their pedagogic method, in a short-term workshop environment—that seems especially too bad.
And, actually, what is really wrong here is Time. These master teachers probably came up in a time, and spent a lot of time, figuring it out for themselves. They probably had, what, at least 2 years to wave long sticks around in a dance studio and find themselves. It must have been great. It's amazing to have the luxury to discover success from within.
But I don't know that many people nowadays who can afford to spend two years with long sticks in dance studios—AND I'M NOT KNOCKING THOSE LONG STICKS. I love those sticks. I carried those sticks all through college. I gave a graduation speech about those sticks!
I'm just saying, a lot of people don't have two years or even six months. A lot of people have a night, a weekend, a week, maybe sometimes a month. Metaphorically speaking, they have a twig or a branch, not the whole freaking stick.
It is your teacher's job to make sure some learning gets done no matter how long the class is. Teaching means more than disseminating information. It means giving each student feedback on how it looks like they are incorporating that information. No matter if the class is three hours or three years. Feedback is what makes people get better at things.
And of course there is such a thing as too much feedback. It is a balance. We want to keep our classes moving, plus there's only so much a student can absorb at once. But we can keep our students on i.v. drips of personal feedback, all the time.
Once I feel like I see enough of a student to get a sense, I set a little personal goal for them in my mind. If they can get this, or, at the very least, hear this, at the end of our time together, cool. And everyone's got a different little goal. And each student might have their own goal that is independent of the goal you have for them. And all of that is good.
But none of it is wallowing in shit.
We have no time left to wallow. Not everyone gets a long stick in this lifetime.
But everyone deserves a little wood.
But everyone deserves a little wood.