One of the most gratifying moments as a teacher is when I see a student surprise themselves. Be it from a clear and powerful “moment before”, the physicalizing of an unhindered impulse, or the discovery of a full voice; there is that wonderful moment when a student realizes they can move past the judgmental voices in their head. We can all share in that instant when a student transcends the crippling phrase of “should be doing” and moves into a new realm of possibilities. It is the moment when they breathe life into their imaginations and allow their creativity to become reality.
Through my extensive training and experience as an actor, I have been able to utilize the knowledge and skills imparted to me by my teachers and collaborators to construct a style of teaching which encourages freedom of the imagination, a safe space for fostering creative risk taking, effective communication, and professionalism. These four elements build a foundation for students to develop objective self-assessment which I believe is a key component to the performing arts and being a productive member of the community.
Imagination: I often see students afraid to engage their full imagination. The fear of getting “it” wrong, ridicule, and indignity impede the student from seeking to explore the full spectrum of possibilities in a script, scene, dance, or even the voicing of an opinion. This is why I use exercises developed by Michael Chekhov, Lecoq, and Hijikata. They enforce the philosophy that the imagination is the most useful tool a performer has in their toolkit.
Safe Space: Because of the fear and tensions students carry with them into the classroom, the development of a safe space is essential to the unleashing of creativity and strengthening of artistic courage. Kindness towards one’s self and towards others shapes respect for the actor, the craft, diverse thought and experiences, and the space. Respect for one another and the space encourages each student/artist to risk their true selves being seen, their craft to being scrutinized, their ability to be accessible to others, and to relay constructive feedback to their classmates.
Communication: I encourage all my students to own their ideas and words. Popular in many students’ vernacular are the terms “like,” “kind of,” and “seems,” which allow students to distance themselves from full expression. I challenge my students to remove these terms from their speech in class and be definitive in conveying thoughts and choices. The courage to express ideas is essential in producing specific choices, clear intention, and use of physical action that bring life to the given circumstances, objectives, and tactics of the character. The learned defenses of the student impair intimacy and vulnerability which are fundamental attributes to permitting the audience, camera, or scene partner to take part in a compelling story.
Professionalism: Reputation, marketing, and a business awareness assist the artist in mounting a professional career. A reputation built on integrity and dependability will propel an actor further than raw talent. Marketing begins with knowing how to type and brand. What are you selling? Like any good business, the actor should be able to objectively evaluate the past and plan for the future to feel secure in the present. Each student learns to calculate where their efforts and money will best serve them. This important skill is a step towards defining success for themselves rather than allowing others to determine it for them.
As much as I instill these philosophies in the students, I reiterate them to myself. I firmly believe the skills and knowledge imparted by the training will positively affect the students in their creative and everyday lives. The students and I will learn from each other as we take what is imaginary and make it real.