Ye gads, but one post last week? And lately posted, at that? Verily, 'tis true. I was very busy out in Scranton last week, and with only occasional access to a 'puter. Last week's entry was in fact composed in twenty-minute segments at Northern Light, limited as I was by their time restriction on the shared internets. By gummuny, but I miss my dearly departed laptop.
Last week's entry also hardly did justice to the work aimed for and achieved last week, being as it was more to do with the choice to do the work than the details of its accomplishment. I aim now to amend that, now that the performances are all said and done. I can not, sadly, even give a full account of the course, as I had to leave our students entirely in the hands of my co-teachers after Friday last to venture to my hometown for preparations for The Big Show. They are excellent co-teachers, though, and I'm sure their burdens were decreased by my departure. The performances were recorded for me, sweetly enough. When I return to Scranton at the start of October to teach high school students, I'll get the satisfaction of a video representing the product of a week's exploration; hardly satisfying, but definitely fascinating.
Overall, I got incredible satisfaction out of beginning to see the fruits of our training just before I left the process Friday. David Zarko had been a bit worried that we hadn't yet cast the scenario come Wednesday, and we decided in fact not to cast until the start of our longer class on Friday, giving us just about a dozen hours in which to rehearse (not to mention stage, costume and generally prepare) with the actors in their given roles. This might seem madness, but throughout the week we felt everything we had to teach and review up until that point was absolutely necessary. We very carefully evaluated and re-evaluated our lesson plans each day, conforming them to fulfill the greater needs we perceived with each class. The week started with a different technique for creating a highly physical characterization each of the first three days, and an introduction to the principles of good improvisational theatre. As we progressed to midweek, we taught a little about commedia dell'arte history and characterizations -- keeping our priority on innovation -- and worked on the process of creating a story from a scenario of simple actions, eventually settling on the Scala scenario The Betrothed for our performance. We worked the scenario with volunteers jumping into different roles each time we ran and, using those runs and some pure improvised scenes based on commedia tropes, cast the show.
Really, the only time I had for witnessing the fruits of our labors was Friday, and I didn't expect much. Frankly, I was focused on learning the scenario as quickly as possible, and so stayed very business-like through the class, trying to keep everyone focused on repetition, simplicity and accuracy. Not a creative sort of day for yours truly. The way David's always worked with us on scenario is to recite the action step-by-step, have us fulfill it as concisely as possible, repeatedly, until we don't need the recitation anymore. This keeps us on our feet and, frankly, works a lot faster than sitting down with a written-out scenario and trying to memorize that. So that's exactly what we did with most of Friday. We also incorporated a new experiment. Owing to the number of people in the class, we had nearly twice as many as the scenario called for, and we teachers decided to solve this by creating new roles around the theme of weddings. So we had a minister, some seamstresses, musicians and porters, none of whom had been integrated into the scenario. They watched as we ran through all three acts a couple of times, and took notes on ideas they had for their insertion. In other words, once we learned the scenario, we had to learn it all over again, with new material added. So I was extra task-mastery. I used my outdoors voice all day long (which I not-so-secretly relish).
I couldn't have imagined how promising the whole thing would look by the end of class, 9:00 Friday night. I mean: Damn. I got all emotional. Not only had everyone learned the scenario (twice) accurately and succinctly, but already people were making sense of it, which is usually one of the most time-consuming parts. They had picked up that some of it was detective work, and the rest of it was up to them to create. There was straying into lazzi territory, which I had to crack down on a little for the sake of clarity at that stage of things, but it was ultimately a wonderful thing. It meant they got it, they were having creative impulses and were excited to explore them in the context of the scenario. It was clear to me by the end that they had a sense of rhythm, story and game, and not only got the inherent jokes to be played but understood where there was need and/or room for their own. Everyone got it; everyone was having fun after a whole week of packed scheduling and a long day of nothing but rote. It was also clear that we needed to revisit the physicalization and energy the next day, to reinforce those style elements . . . but that wasn't my concern, no matter how much I wanted it to be.
The choices of work we do and don't (do [huh: odd]) create an ever-shifting landscape of influence on our worlds, and right back on ourselves. I was, I must admit, not altogether enthusiastic about teaching this past week. I love working with Marywood, but recent experiences elsewhere had left a bad taste in my mouth for the work, and I felt under-qualified for what we were teaching. This class, however, revived my faith in both myself and in the people I work with. I had to leave it early, to take care of aspects of my own life that very much needed attention, yet the work of last week left me wanting more of it, nudging me into another direction with everything else I devote my energies to in the coming months. For example, I'm very excited now for the potentially traditional commedia aspects we plan to use in The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet, and I'm thinking about how to keep the energy of teaching what I want to teach, how I want to teach it, going even at the times I don't have a contract to that effect.
In fulfillment of my seven-day pay period that this recent Marywood contract covered, I'm obligated to teach a class to these same students when I return to Scranton in 2009 for TVNPCoR&J. I haven't yet determined whether I'm committed to a single seminar on acting as a profession, or two days' worth of class, or twelve hours, or what. I do know that I'm very much looking forward to it.