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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Theatre Educators--- Help Create Actors, Not Parrots!


Greetings, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I am an actor, director, playwright, and theater educator.   I feel lucky to be all of these things.

There are a great many misconceptions when it comes to the idea of theater education, particularly at a high school level. While many people would recognize that it is not a visual arts teacher's job to tell a child, "This is how you draw a sun, and this is the only way to draw a sun," these same people may expect that when directing students in a play, or teaching a high school acting class, that you tell the students how to act. "Read the lines this way, with a big smile on your face, then when he yells at you, act sad by sticking your lower lip out and lowering your head. Listen to how I say the line and then do it like that." This is simply not true. Or, at least, I believe it goes against every little thing theater education should be about.

As a director, I try to NEVER give line readings (having people imitate how I would say a line). To me, that is akin to a visual arts teacher saying, "You can only draw that this way." The only time I will do this, the only, only time, is if I have a really little kid who cannot think critically about what they are doing, and, only then will I do that in a production that people are paying money to see. I don't even like to do it then. Even when directing "Annie, Jr." and "Anne of Green Gables" at the Center Theatre, I didn't do this unless absolutely necessary, and never with anyone over the age of five. Why, Bobby, you may ask.  The answer is simple.  I feel my primary role as an educator is to create actors and not parrots. It is my job to teach young people about MAKING CHOICES. That is perhaps the number one job of an actor--- it is what they bring to the table as an artist.

I do my best to give all cast members or students tools toward building a character, understanding a script, and discussing with them how they help to tell the overall story. From time to time, I will have a students ask me in a rehearsal or class, "How should I say that line?" I always answer that question with another question: "Where is your character at?" or "What are they thinking?" or, most often, "What does your character want?  What is their objective for speaking this line?"

In this way, I am helping to create actors, and actors who can analyze a script critically.  If I tell them exactly how to do something, I cease being an educator or a director, and I become a pirate trying to train his parrots.

A director's job is to put everything together to create an experience that is magical coming from the work of many, and not just myself. 

My job with high school students or even younger actors is to facilitate them finding the answers for themselves, guiding them to create something which comes from their unique perspective, and discussing changes if I don't agree with their interpretations, or don't believe it fits within the world of the play.  This is an important job. 

You see, this is what happens in real life, in the real world of theatre. Actors make choices. They are not told exactly how to say a line. And I will not condescend to my students by expecting less of them than I would of adult actors.
 
If  a student registers for my class, or signs up for my plays, regardless of talent, I do my best to bring the best out of them.  This, of course, has varying results.  But by doing so, I am providing a richer experience for this student, and giving them a richer education. 
 
I do not, at the high school level, believe in asking the weaker singers to only mouth the words, or the weaker actors to stand in the background like props or furniture.  If I do this, then I fail as a teacher and as a director.  When it comes to theatre education, it is just as much about the journey as the final result. 
 
So I want my final result to be spectacular?  Of course I do.  Is that always going to happen.  Of course it isn't. 
 
But what can always happen, if I do my job, is that students can learn to think differently, use their minds more creatively and critically.  And that is what makes a win in my humble opinion. 

I do not create parrots. I assist young people in realizing they are actors.
 
Thanks for reading theater is a sport.  See you next time. 


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