- Editor’s Comments
With its focus on pedagogy, Theatre Topics continues to meet an important need in the academic community. Although many of us spend the greater part of our professional lives teaching and advising students, the opportunities for productive exchange about curriculum and classroom methods seem all too rare. Given the time involved in teaching our own classes, meeting production schedules, completing research, and performing administrative duties, little time is left for visiting colleagues’ classes, attending student workshops, or discussing at length the construction and rationale for other people’s courses. For this reason, I am particularly pleased to introduce an issue devoted to what many of us value most—teaching.
In the opening essay, Debra Freeberg reminds us that the practical value of theatre in the classroom setting should not be underestimated, especially in an age of budget cuts and bottom-line thinking. Her group of Wandering Thespians offers an innovative curricular solution to several practical problems, fulfilling theatre department needs as well as serving larger institutional interests. Combining pedagogical insight and theatre advocacy, Freeberg provides a good example of how external economic pressures can prompt internal academic restructuring with benefits for all.
The following five essays all emerge from the authors’ experience teaching specific courses or workshops. Phillip B. Zarrilli’s year-long project included a one-month residency by the noted actress Billie Whitelaw and ended with the production of eight short Beckett pieces. As a teacher of Asian martial arts and bodymind workshops for performers both here and abroad, Zarrilli not only outlines an appropriate approach to acting Beckett, but also shows how Beckett texts themselves teach student actors essential, indeed necessary, performance skills. Grappling with the essentials of an open and ambiguous text was also required of students in Shannon Jackson’s summer course “Adaptation for Ensemble Performance.” Using Nadine Gordimer’s story “The Smell of Death and Flowers” to explore with her students the complicated physical and psychic process of “unlearning” racist psychology, Jackson illustrates the contradictory dynamics involved when using the classroom as a site for social transformation. With careful attention to the nuances of student interaction in a course so closely embodying the principles of Henry Giroux’s “border pedagogy,” Jackson’s essay significantly contributes to the understanding and development of progressive educational theory and practice.
In “Joking with the Classics,” Ruth Bowman offers an effective approach to the study of classic plays in the undergraduate performance classroom. Turning to the early work of Augusto Boal, Bowman develops a pedagogical practice based on Boal’s Joker System. Though student productions are [End Page iv] involved, the process of textual exploration, rather than the final product, is of primary concern. Bowman’s use of the Joker System suggests that students’ active learning skills are enhanced through playful and experimental engagement with texts; and her ideas seem adaptable to various kinds of theatre and drama curricula. The course described in Julian Olf’s essay, “Reading the Dramatic Text for Production,” specifically aims to help students develop and refine their creative and artistic potential as they approach a script for production. Based on phenomenological premises, Olf’s carefully outlined course taps student’s own psychic sources with an approach favoring intuitive grasp of the material over rational, overly intellectualized methods. Finally, Sonja Kuftinec takes the reader beyond the confines of the classroom in an article based on her community theatre practice in former Yugoslavia. Another example of “border pedagogy,” Kuftinec’s essay suggests that the workshopping around identity issues so crucial to learning in a war-torn, Eastern European context may be usefully transposed to the American classroom.
As this issue was taking shape, the “Performance Art, Culture and Pedagogy” symposium organized by Charles Garoian took place at Pennsylvania State University. Lisa Wolford and Katy Ryan’s reports from this event mark something of a departure for Theatre Topics, one I hope members who were unable to attend the symposium will appreciate. Lisa Wolford’s article combines an overview of the event with thoughtful critical commentary based on knowledge of the field; Katy Ryan, speaking from an “outsider” location both as student and nonperformer, eloquently reminds us of things that...