Friday, September 14, 2007

Training Squirrels, Part Two: When Did the Self-Esteem Movement Hit India?

Today I had another exercise, this time designed to root out unpreparedness. Many of my students were just floating along, showing up for class and saying their lines but not doing one bit of work on their part from one day to the next. This needed to stop.

A bit of background: yesterday, I explained to my class that an actor can always be working, even when he or she is not onstage, and gave them a list of things they could be working on (breath, resonance, movement score, memorization, etc.) when they weren’t in a scene. They all said “yes, ma’am,” and nodded, but spent most of their offstage time chatting (as I had expected).

So, at the end of class, I called my students together and asked each of them to show me what they had accomplished when I hadn’t been working with them. They looked at me and giggled.

“Um…” one began.

“I memorized my lines,” another said.

“Great!” I said. “Let’s hear them.”

He blushed. “Actually, ma’am, I did not.”

So today, after we spent another twenty minutes learning how to warm-up in synchrony, I wrote a short verse (in English) on the whiteboard. I gave a brief lecture on how specific physical and vocal actions can be used to add meaning to a text (whispering a particular word, for example). Then I asked them to prepare this text using three strong physical actions and three strong vocal actions. I told them we would be performing the text after five minutes.

As I had expected, four or five students got up and began working and the rest sat in the corner and chatted. I let five minutes pass. In fact, I let ten minutes pass, because the students who were working wanted the extra time. (The students who were chatting didn’t notice either way.)

Then I called them back together and said it was time for the performances.

A few of the prepared students went, and then I made a few unprepared students perform, and then I had the last of the prepared students go. Ideally, this would have shown the students clearly the difference between prepared and unprepared work. However, once the students realized what was happening they changed the game. They started applauding the unpreparedness and laughing at the preparedness.

So I said “Is there anyone else who would like to perform?”

An unprepared student stood up.

“No, I’m sorry,” I said. “I watched you, and I never saw you rehearse, so I won’t let you perform.”

He was almost shocked.

“Is there anyone else? Anyone who has rehearsed?”

There wasn’t.

Afterwards, one of the prepared students came and told me that I should have let everyone perform because not letting everyone perform made some students “feel bad.” I couldn’t believe it. I told him that if feeling bad made the class work harder next time, I didn’t mind. ^__^

But today, after the rehearsals were over and I asked my students to show me what they had accomplished while they weren’t in a scene, more than half of them had something worthwhile to show. The other half still spent their time chatting. This I will have to fix tomorrow.

(BTW -- the student from the other day is still refusing to participate. I'm ignoring him completely. He'll give up, or he won't, but I'm not going to enter into any dialogue about it. This is, after all, exactly what SRK did. ^__^)


Coach Khan said...

I would ask the other teachers how to deal with this. Honestly, my impression is that students in India are bad at homework but then cram for tests. So perhaps you need to give them graded assignments.

Furthermore, I wouldn't put up with any insubordination in the classroom, as with laughing at those who were prepared. You might want to get some people in for a sample audience and have them do a scene, just so that they can feel ashamed of how badly they are doing right now.

Anonymous said...


I am not sure I understand just what this class is that you're teaching - is it a class that the students are taking for credit in their university studies? Or is it an optional class that they took n for other purposes (maybe to learn more about actually putting on a production, or just to pad their resumes?)

If the former, you are well within your rights to state that passing involves x-y-z and that you will not give a passing grade to everyone. That tends to be a great motivator. If the latter, I'm not sure you will get more from the class than you have now - the interested ones will continue to work, the others will disengage even more. if it is within your mandate, you could indicate that you have a deadline by which you expect a certain level of work from the class, those not meeting this level will be asked to leave. (maybe too drastic, maybe they instead need to take a lower-level class of some kind?)

Also, it sounds like most of your students may be used to more militant or stern teachers, and may interpret friendliness as not being able to control the class. Definitely don't accept the insubordination of laughing at prepared students.

Good luck,


Blue said...

Bitterlemons and Coach Khan -- it's a workshop, with no grades attached. The students' attendance is noted, but even that is only 20% of a grade that they are getting in another class.

In other words, they could blow off the play completely and still get a B in their Acting Theory course. ^__^