I was watching my students the other day and was reminded, once again, of how much they resembled my high school drama class. (That would be the drama class I was in, when I was in high school. I haven’t taught a high school drama class, not yet.)
That is, they’re interested, even talented, but they lack control. They lack the self-control to pay attention during rehearsal, to use their time wisely instead of goofing around with their friends, to listen and follow directions. (I’m not sure they’re deliberately misbehaving; they just haven’t been trained yet. In that, I am partially to blame, because I haven’t successfully taught them how to focus. As I predicted, my “motivational speech” helped them pull together for about two days. Then I tried getting angry, but that didn’t work – and it made me feel like my high school drama teacher, shouting impotently and with no purpose. Idiot-sound-fury-signifying-nothing.)
They also lack the physical control necessary in a good actor. They don’t know how to use their bodies to express character, beyond a general “walk slower/speak louder” kind of thing. They don’t know how to manipulate posture or breath; the first time I did an exercise designed to show them how breath can be altered and controlled, they had great difficulty and a few tried to assure me that I was asking them to do something impossible.
All of this is fine, because all of this can be taught. Technical skills have to be learned.
But this takes time; years, in fact. And these students are not all young. Two-thirds of them have already earned a BS or a BA or a BSc in something or another, and (as I found out, with surprise) the majority of my class is older than I am.
So what to do? The answer, in my case, is simple: direct as well as I can, teach what I can, and let them have this experience of putting on a play.
But I can’t help feeling responsible, because I want my students to succeed. I want the play to succeed. And while the play will be reasonably successful in an entertaining and “cute” way, it won’t be professional, or even pre-professional. It’s student theatre. It’s what one would expect from a high school cast, not a group of MA freshers.
It makes me wonder, once again, just how disadvantaged people are who don’t start training (in whatever subject – theatre, music, computers, languages) very early. Bodies mature, synapses close, and attitudes form; and then beginning “at the beginning” becomes difficult. It is much easier to train an eight-year-old to perform a controlled physical action than it is to teach a twenty-seven-year-old. (I should know – I’ve taught both.)
And yet we’ve got this group of MA theatre students who want to be successful; and I don’t know how to solve this problem.