Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Difference Between Teaching and Directing

I've been told, during the course of my graduate-student career, that I am a good teacher; that I manage the classroom well, that I present materials with the intent of reaching a variety of learning styles, that I can lead and structure a class discussion, etc.

This may (I hope) be true. At any rate, I feel very comfortable in a classroom. I feel like I know what to do. It's almost like putting together a puzzle -- trying to find the right pieces that will connect the students with the material.

However, I've also been told that I am less good as a director; that is, I can't run a rehearsal hall quite as well as I run a classroom. We've spent a few advising sessions trying to figure out why, and trying to figure out what (in terms of behavior, presentation, techniques, etc.) I can change.

Teaching and directing, after all, are in some ways very similar. Both involve helping a group of people achieve a series of objectives. Both require one to present material in a number of different ways (if the student/actor isn't making the necessary progress, the teacher/director must work to adjust the method of instruction, etc.).

My work here is half teaching and half directing. I am teaching the students about Shakespeare and about acting techniques, and then directing a performance of Tempest.

Again, I feel much more comfortable (and capable) with the teaching half than with the directing half.

And yesterday I had an inspiration as to why. It came while I was watching one of the senior faculty in the department lecture our students on the importance of punctuality, respect, etc. (They've reached the point in the semester where they've started behaving like little squirrels; skipping class, ignoring assignments, etc.)

It occurred to me, while watching this, that the difference between teaching and directing is that a director must actively work to change an actor's behavior.

If a teacher has a lazy or unprepared or flaky student, she can do her best to connect with the student but in the end may just end up handing out a B or C grade. The onus of performance is on the student.

If a director has a lazy or unprepared or flaky actor, the director must change that actor's behavior or the director will have a bad play (or, at least, a weak character in a play). A play can't present itself in a "bell curve," with some A sections and some F sections and a bunch of B and C sections. The onus of performance is, entirely, on the director.

And changing people's behavior is something at which I am terrible. I don't need an adviser to tell me that.

So... I need to think about this one, and find some way to incorporate it into my rehearsal hall. Otherwise, I will spend the next week or so (until the students start to get nervous about the upcoming performance and begin to work harder) rehearsing with squirrels.



Ennis said...

1. Emulate directors you thought were effective at it.

2. Emulate stereotypical director behavior - yelling, bullying, etc. Think of yourself as "acting" in the role of a director.

3. Realize that their behavior isn't going to change unless you start to notice when they're not doing their job and come up with an escalating set of sanctions for it. The problem here is that things that will motivate you might not motivate them so you have to experiment. Start by singling them out for a private talk, move to public criticism, then move to group criticism "What did J just do wrong here?" Lastly, move to threatening them quite explicitly with the consequences of their actions - do you want to look a fool on the performance day Mr. So and So? Do you want to embarass the rest of your classmates? Here is a clown nose - you can spend the rest of today wearing one so you can get the urge to act embarassingly out of your system. If you assert authority, they might follow.

Daniel said...

kill or otherwise maim the underperformers?