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?


Objectives 101

Some of my better ideas in teaching are ones I’ve come up with spontaneously. Today was a day like that. I was teaching my college level Introduction to Theatre students some basic textual analysis skills– choosing objectives being a major discussion point. I make an effort in all my teaching to mix up groupings of students whenever possible, and today after modeling choosing objectives for one of Beneatha’s monologues from A Raisin in the Sun, I split the group up into the men and the women. The men worked on one of Rafe’s monologues from Windshook and the women worked on one of Lily Dale’s monologues from Lily Dale from The Orphans Home Cycle. They had to collaborate to reach a consensus about where they thought each beat in the text was located and on a strong objective for each one. After they did this, an idea came to me, mainly out of an interest to involve as many students as possible in the performing of the monologues at the end, rather than to just have one group member present to the class. I asked each student to take a different beat and perform their section with that objective in mind. So we had 5 Lily Dale’s in a line, each taking their turn to present the collective work of the group. I found it so effective in that the students weren’t pressured to perform all the hills and valleys of the piece, but just to focus in on the notion of a single objective. It kind of exaggerated the notion that each beat is a unit unto itself. Plus it was super-theatrical having 5 people all performing as the same person (definitely want to explore that for directing possibilities some day)… Most of all the structure of the activity required cooperative work and a sense of “product” beyond the heavy process-feeling of studying textual analysis.

Another activity I did recently was to have students create one or two person tableaux demonstrating character who has a particular objective. I find new actors often take a while getting their minds around what an objective is and is not, and just brainstorming potential objectives that could fit any character– and then exploring it from a nonverbal angle seems to help with that a lot.

Question for the World: Do you teach beats (or units), objectives, and superobjectives? How do you do it? What pitfalls have you run into with teaching this content?