Acting for the Very Inhibited… and Other Challenges

I’ve been teaching regularly with some high school and college aged students who are very new to theatre, some of whom are only in my particular class because someone forced them to take it. This of course presents a special challenge for a teaching artist– it’s always easier to teach people who actually are interested in the content you’re working with. I have students who are so painfully shy that, while willing to be a “good student” enough to try to read a monologue in front of the class, will only manage to speak at a level just slightly above a whisper. I have other students who appear put off by the mere suggestion that they participate in an activity, and will go to great lengths to stall, sometimes to the detriment of the class. I have a student who, when asked to write about what types of activities they think they would enjoy in acting class, wrote that she really wanted to be in another class but it was filled and as far as acting went she didn’t like “silly games” or any level of performance in front of the class or elsewhere. I’ve employed a variety of strategies to enthuse, inspire, and encourage these kinds of non-performers, but I’m interested to know if others have had success with such personalities at the high school and college level.


Question for the World: Have you had students whose inhibitions severely limited their participation in class? Have you had students who simply did not want to be in your class in the first place? What did you do to make it work?

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3 Responses to “Acting for the Very Inhibited… and Other Challenges”

  1. Emely Says:

    I have had this happen several times. Frankly, I haven’t found a good way to get around it. The only times that I have had success is when I have found something that the student is interested in and push the lesson in that direction. However, this doesn’t always work. Plus, the older the student, the less the are willing to try something. Can you give some examples of what has worked for you?

  2. Nora Says:

    Going out of my way to be friendly and approachable before and outside of class seems to help. Developing a rapport is essential if there’s ANY chance at all of improving the situation. I try to pick my battles and get to know the students as well as I can to try to discern what the motivation is behind the behavior I’m trying to dissuade.

    One thing I do before I do an activity with a group I suspect may be unwilling to commit to the work is I say, “If this were a first grade math class the only way I would know I taught you how to add would be if you all picked up a pencil and showed me you could do it. In this type of class it’s the same way. Even though some of the things we do might feel a little strange, I need to see you try so I know you learned something, and if we all agree that we’ll ALL try then hopefully we’ll feel less on the spot about it.”

    I read a great book recently– I AM NOT SICK, I DON’T NEED HELP by Dr. Xavier Amador– that is actually focused on advising family members of people who are mentally ill on how to encourage their loved one to seek or continue treatment. But it occurs to me that some of the strategies apply– at heart it’s about finding a way to be a supportive observer with an eye towards persuading someone towards something you know could be good for them that they are not currently comfortable with. Might be worth a read with that lens in mind.

  3. Emely Says:

    Cool! Thanks for the info!


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