02 April 2009

Done Taught Some Learnin'


Is it specifically making fun of southern folk when you use that dialect, or just making fun of ignorant folk in general? It's clearly meant to sound southern, but I can't say fer certain if that or the horrible syntax connotes stupidity.

Yesterday I taught as a guest artist in Suzi Takahashi's classroom at CCNY. In spite of being mid-cold (oh doh!) I thought it went rather well. The space was awesome: a movement studio built into the ground, so you entered to a sort of balcony overlooking the whole room, and once you descended a flight of stairs you were on a 25x35 wood floor with an approximately twenty-foot ceiling above you. The class was a slightly shifty one, but by that I don't mean they were suspicious in any way. It was a class of about 19, but a few were late, and a few had to leave variously early, and most of them weren't especially interested in theatre. In fact, many of them did turn out to be dance enthusiasts who ended up in the class due to a syllabus error. Nonetheless, they were a great group -- very attentive, and with good energy to put into the work. I worried a bit at the beginning, when some of them were exhausted by the warm-up, but they were mostly crying wolf on that count. The conditioning at the end of class . . . now that rolled them out pretty flat.

I gave them a good long warm-up, explaining as we went why we were doing particular exercises and how they related to the work. Then I got into the typical commedia dell'arte characters, introducing them one-by-one by groups: innamorati, then vecchi, then zanni. I ended up bring along some cut-outs from a calendar I bought in Italy a couple of years ago. I questioned what I would do with them when I saved them, and now I'm glad I did and surprised that I didn't immediately realize they'd be good teaching aids. Each time I introduced a type of character, we spent a little time on specific versions and always, always, keeping the students moving and trying the forms physically. They took to it beautifully, hopefully aided in that effort by my advice, "You can only fail in this form by NOT making a fool of yourself." We just had enough time to get through the three basic categories, then touch on two "hybrid characters" (Capitano and Pulcinella) before I only had ten minutes for conditioning and homework. We worked our upper bodies today (my sadism in full effect with circle push-ups) and I asked them to observe people for character studies to bring into class when next we meet.

As I say, I had a good time. The experience of teaching solo meant that I had to work a little smarter to get everyone to accept me and glom onto my humor. I hadn't realized how similar to having an audience plant it was to have a co-teacher. I also found myself looking at all this stuff, that I teach and have taught for years, in a fresh light. That really ought to happen with every different group of students, of course, but occasionally I feel less enthused about the whole thing. This time, however, something about the almost total ignorance of the form that the class had motivated me to seek out fresh connections between what they did know and instinctively performed, and what I had to add to it. Sometimes I wonder if my enthusiasm for teaching might be based a bit too much in how occasionally I do it. If I had to teach multiple classes every weekday, would it retain my interest?

Suzi and I had a bit of a conversation about this and other things related to education and making a career in the theatre after class was dismissed. She has had a very interesting (and informative, for me) path through acting, directing, bachelor's, master's and even PhD programs, and at present is adjunct teaching quite a bit in New York and elsewhere. We talked about what it was like to return to school, to teach and to get jobs in the academic theatre scene and the world at large. I don't know what to make of all we discussed just yet, but it was great to talk so openly about what I plan to do with my life over the next few years. I ended up being more plain than I generally am with other theatre folk (networking always being in the back of my mind somewhere) and learned a lot about what I see for myself and what I'd like to see.

Now this is a funny point for me. Generally speaking, I like to talk here about the tribulations and rewards of what I call The Third Life, meaning what one does in addition to a personal life and a money-making life. More and more, that distinction has come to seem artificial to the point of being obsolete. The artistry for me is not a separate part, even when the goals may seem to be in conflict with the other two parts. Catholics may prefer the divine paradox, but as for me, I was raised Unitarian, so I guess we all should have known I'd take it in that direction eventually.

Assuming that unity as real, or at least as a prospective goal, suddenly my vow to generally leave the minutiae of my personal life out of the 'blog is unwarranted. Basically unhelpful and wrong, in fact. All is one.

That having been said, don't worry: I'll still try not to flood the Internet with things like a detailed schedule of my flatulence. (Note to self: New social networking site idea: "Tooter.")

My point (and this time I do have one) is that it feels very personal, too personal, to talk completely openly here about what I want for my future. But it also feels like I need to get past that, in a way, because part of what makes me feel vulnerable is an awareness that I'll be held more accountable for anything that makes it down in type here. So I may not be as open as I could be, but henceforth I'll be more open than I have. Balance in all things, as they say. This may be a little old-dog/new-tricky for me, of course.

But, as they say, it's never too late to learn.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

I think I can admit now I've never fully understood your working definition of The Third Life. Certainly the distinction between my artistic and money-making lives has always been one of necessity rather than choice, and with any luck it won't be the permanent arrangement, but even separating my personal life from the rest of it seemed hard to fathom, let alone do. All of this, of course, is separate from what one wants to put on a blog, what is appropriate to share with the interwebs at large, so maybe the structure you envisioned for the Aviary wasn't necessarily how you saw your life. I'm reminded again of the "work on your art by working on your life" comment we discussed earlier. By the way, I got the impression you felt that line meant "I should just put up with my present situation and make it work". The lemonade from lemons approach. I don't think that's what the advice actually is. I think it's more about recognizing life as a unified (or unitarian, if you prefer) whole. It's not a command to suck it up and muscle through everything, it's a reminder that our art COMES from our lives, so doing stuff to make them rich, rewarding and fulfilling will make our art better. So marry the woman of your dreams; teach classes; see silly movies and raunchy burlesque shows; read comics; have too much to drink with friends occasionally. All of that will feed your art.

Jeff Wills said...

I complee agreetly, Patrick (maybe I have been having a little too much of having too much to drink with friends lately). It's just a bit of an effort to me to unify all these bits effectively. It's interesting that I tend toward viewing things like my day job as being separate from things like my personal and artistic efforts. Perhaps it's the Gemini in me? Whatever it is, it's got to stop. I'm putting my foot down--!

Whoops stairs--!


[nothing funnier than a typed pratfall NOTHING]