- What Stays (in Undergraduate Theatre Education)
I hope you won’t hiss, but I was trained in graduate school to be a theatre critic. Anatole France advised: “To be quite frank, the critic ought to say ‘Gentlemen, I am going to speak about myself apropos of Shakespeare, apropos of Racine, or of Pascal, or of Goethe.’”
Speaking of myself apropos What Stays, I took exactly one theatre class as an undergraduate. It was in my final semester, and on the first day Bob Auletta announced that his goal was to discourage any of us from becoming playwrights. I acted for the first time that same semester as an attendant to Earl Hyman performing Othello for the 500th time. I had zero lines.
I was slow to figure out what is now obvious: Plays are meant to be staged, not read. That belated insight led to Yale Drama School, and after it to twenty years in the land of LORT as a literary manager, dramaturg, director, and artistic director. I was past age 50 when I joined the University of Louisville as chair and attended my first faculty meeting ever.
The “myself” I speak of apropos What Stays, teaches
• at a public university;
• within a college of liberal arts and sciences;
• in a department that offers a BS, an MFA, and a Graduate Certificate in African American Theatre; we are home to one of the few African American theatre programs in the world;
• and as director of a certificate program in Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation that I cofounded. Theatre has never been my sole passion.
What Stays, at least for my department, is home sweet home in liberal arts. I enthusiastically embrace liberal arts. I quibble with the language describing this panel as “in line with the realities of professional practice” if that implies that our primary responsibility is to prepare students for professional theatre. Most of them will not end up there and we mislead them if we suggest otherwise.
What Stays is a core of learning that is wide-ranging and eclectic, like our students. Theatre is that rare human pursuit that can use every piece of knowledge and talent its practitioners possess. If you can juggle, play an instrument, speak foreign languages, walk on your hands, wield power tools safely, paint, write, sew, draft ground plans, sell tickets, raise money, inspire others, or make them laugh, you can apply it in the theatre. The more our students know and can do, the better prepared they are for life, and also for the theatre that might be part of it.
What Stays is creating productions. In Marsha Norman’s Traveler in the Dark, one character counters another’s certitude: “That is not the truth. That is just a fact. The truth is what the facts mean.” Most of us spend weeks each year in productions seeking truth amid the clutter of facts.
What Stays is the rehearsal room as a laboratory where we explore juicy interrogative pronouns that help us to separate truth from facts: Who am I talking to? What does this line mean? Why do I say it now? When do I move, if I move? Where do I stand, or sit, or skip, or sway? How do I communicate my intention or should I mask it? Why does any of this matter? [End Page 357]
There are hundreds more questions to ask, then answer tentatively as best we can for this stage of rehearsal. (Do I reveal my technique as a director? I do.) And of course just outside the rehearsal room our collaborators are addressing the same questions in their studios, shops, and offices.
In rehearsal rooms our students comprehend that communication includes proactive listening, not just inspired speaking; we are reminded why human beings have two ears and one mouth. And we figure out how to kiss the person we did not use to like. And curse the one we do. We evolve to trust everyone in the company, even those who may have seemed a little … different … around the table at the first read-through.
Inside the cloisters of rehearsal rooms and shops we travel effortlessly across time and space...