Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on Theatre and Education

An insight that came while I was brushing and flossing my teeth (and, btw, if you get a piece of floss stuck between your teeth, what then do you use to get it out?):

The myth of theatre is the myth of the broken convention.

The story of our namesake, Thespis, is the story of a broken convention. People were used to hearing actors tell stories as a chorus; suddenly, one actor stepped forward and began telling a story as a character.

And then it's a trail of broken conventions all the way through Corneille, Moliere, Racine; realism, A Doll House and "the door slam heard 'round the world," and then naturalism, with the shock of "recreating a working restaurant onstage;" then Brecht, Joan Littlewood, Robert Wilson, Joanne Akalaitis, etc.

For the musical-theatre dorks, there are the myths of Showboat, Oklahoma, Allegro, Company, and Rent, among others.

And so theatre students believe, fervently, in the necessity of breaking convention. Which means, sometimes, defying (or, more accurately, ignoring) technique, teachers, advice, the audience response ("they just didn't get it!"), and common sense.

I understand this. I've been there. I've... um... done that. But looking backwards, I realize how much time I wasted because I didn't learn the technique first. I didn't understand the purpose of the conventions beyond the most superficial, Wikipedia-esque level.

Art students spend time copying masterworks. Perhaps theatre students should have to learn to copy a particular performance. One that is difficult physically or emotionally; one that requires a lot of focus and specificity. I'd love to design a class around this idea. I wonder if it would... work.

1 comment:

DirectorLife said...

Hi there! I'm a (former) teacher at a public high school in the Southeast. I've been pretty active in the theatre world for about six years now. I've directed two shows so far, and I'm hoping to direct a third pretty soon.

Onto the topic of your post, I have to say that I agree with you. Rules and tradition are rules and tradition for a reason. You have to know the rules in order to break them properly.

Perhaps "bend" is a better term.

When I taught my English classes, every once in awhile I would mention that "there are plenty of exceptions to the rule" and they would inevitably ask, "Then why is it a rule?"

"Because you have to know the rules in order to break them properly," I replied.

When I directed the two plays that I did, I first approached each script in what I considered to be the "traditional" manner. I looked at it and tried to think of what the most traditional way to do this show would be.

Once I had that figured out, I started thinking of ways to change it to be more innovative, more exciting, and more interesting. Not everything worked out perfectly, of course, but I did establish my definition of "normal" in the context of the plays before I started tinkering with "new" ideas.

There's a huge difference, I think, between thinking outside the box and being ignorant of the boundaries of the box.

Good post, good ideas. I'd love to hear more about your ideas for a classroom based around this concept.

If you'd like to read some of my perspectives on directing, you're more than welcome to visit my blog: Life of a Director.

Keep up the good posts!