Monday, March 30, 2009

An Actor Prepares

I'm in Insurance City this evening, where a fellow blogger has invited me to campus to do a workshop on performance and composition pedagogy, and to give a talk as part of a fantastic humanities seminar. After a frustrating series of delays and a couple of bumpy flights (it was windy today) I arrived, and then had coffee with another fellow blogger. (on a side note: how great is it that academic blogging can bring together a rhetorician, a Victorianist and a performance theorist who would likely have never otherwise crossed paths for a random coffee hour for plain old good conversation?)

After a lovely dinner with a few of Nels's departmental colleagues, I am back at the hotel, brushing up the notes for the talk, and laying out my plan for the workshop.

It has occurred to me that when you are a performance theorist/drama guy, running a workshop on performance pedagogy, a certain level of performance on my part will certainly be expected. Now, I'm a bit of a performer by nature, and my costume is in the closet hanging out (velvet blazer of power, natch), so I'm not experiencing stage fright, per say, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't experiencing performance anxiety of a somewhat different sort--the kind that our students experience when they themselves sit down to write.

I think that I am surprised whenever I am regarded by peers (and especially by those further along in their careers than I), as anything like an expert or an authority in my field. Yes, sure I think about the performance element more than many, but I haven't logged the classroom hours that some have, and I can only claim to be a thoughtful participant in the teaching profession, not a thoroughly informed expert on pedagogy. What qualifies me to lead these people in a workshop?

It occurs to me, though, that my whole point is that thinking of the classroom as a space in which we are all actors--rather than simply an actor and an audience--should not simply be a thesis statement. It should be a methodology as well.

Last week, one of the performances that I took in with my students was put on by a company that takes as m.o. for its winter season the idea that a core group of actors will perform a play with no director, no costume designer, etc. They collaborate on the production, and while one lead actor may be the prime mover for many of the choices, there isn't a singular authority in the process. The production was a little ragged around the edges, but it was vibrant and thoroughly engaging. it was evident that every actor had a stake in the performance as an artist.

So as I plan for the workshop tomorrow, I'm fine in terms of content, but I am actively trying to think of ways to create an environment where every teacher there is an actor and not simply an audience member. And I must constantly remind myself about this in the classroom, too.

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