Process, Process, Process

A couple of years ago, I watched the documentary Thespians, which follows students preparing for the Florida State Thespian Festival. A colleague and I were discussing the film and both of us lamented the fact that we have so little time to spend on truly coaching our students. The next school year, I was determined to do more “coaching” and less “directing” and “facilitating.” Unfortunately, time constraints and deadlines quickly pushed me back into my usual rushed schedule. My efforts to coach our Shakespeare scenes were overshadowed by my need to direct our ensemble mainstage scene during class and our fall production of All in the Timing after school. I started to wonder when I could just . . . teach.
This year, I think I am doing better in this regard. I sat down and made goals. What do I want my program to look like? I decided that the biggest thing that I wanted to focus on in the first semester was less on what the end result of some production was going to be (don’t get me wrong, I’m still a perfectionist and still want quality productions) and more on building the skills needed to get there successfully.
After our exceptionally long unit on teambuilding, the class split into partners and I assigned each set of partners a scene. I chose scenes that were difficult, scenes from established plays as well as newer work, scenes that were serious and most importantly, scenes in which the relationship with the other character is critical to the scene. Medea, Rabbit Hole, Waiting for Godot, Angels in America, August: Osage County, The Woolgatherers, Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie, The Importance of Being Earnest, Our Town, Of Mice and Men, Antigone and maybe a couple more that I am forgetting.
The point of this assignment though was not performance, but process. I gave them no deadlines, no final performance date, nothing but “work on this scene,” “learn about the play,” “develop this character.” We spent time in one on one sessions talking about choices in character, choices in line delivery and choices in what to cut. I will admit, not all of my students have been sucessful with this approach. Without deadlines and absolutes, some just never bothered to learn their parts or work. Others memorized their lines, but when I would offer correction, or even just bringing up a question that challenged their pre-conceived notions, they had difficulty making an adjustments.
Despite the mixture of sucess and failure in this approach, I am hoping that they will at least take away the idea that it doesn’t always have to be about the performance. Sure, some of these pieces might end up at a festival, most won’t. That isn’t the point. The point is process. Did you learn something, did you grow as an actor? Did you change from the beginning to the end? Did you make a discovery?

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