- Teaching Theatre Today: Pedagogical Views of Theatre in Higher Education
What do we teach theatre for—that is, for what future result? This theoretical question haunts thirteen reflective essays collected and edited by Anne Fliotsos and Gail Medford in Teaching Theatre Today. As performance studies continues to widen theatre curricula, this significant anthology offers faculty a means of integrating "new" theories into "old" practices. Most contributors focus upon the past and present methods used in teaching the crafts (acting, movement and voice, directing, playwriting, and design) and culture (history and literature) of theatre without questioning this canonical curriculum in toto in relation to our media-saturated society. Each essay covers subjects quite comprehensively, yet those based on studies conducted during the 1990s may leave some readers speculating on how particular courses reflect theatre education "today." Nevertheless, the intended emphasis on traditional curricula lays much fruitful groundwork for readers to theorize the future positioning of theatre in higher education.
Ironically, the glaring exclusion of theatre with and for children from this volume helps to explain the paucity of pedagogical theorizing the editors seek to redress. As Patti Gillespie argues forcefully in her preface, abdicating responsibility for educating K-12 theatre teachers perpetuates a regurgitation of theatre basics in higher education, leaving little curricular space for more intellectually rigorous experimental performances and innovative teaching that could stretch undergraduate minds in yet-to-be-imagined directions. Courses that question current pedagogical theories unique to teaching theatre could not only prepare graduate students as future professors, as Michele Pagan astutely advocates, but also expand undergraduates' career options as teaching artists in growing K-12 educational programs at professional theatres. By legitimizing theatre across all educational contexts, professors could potentially resolve the "craft-or-culture stalemate" that Anne Berkeley so brilliantly illuminates and establishes in the first chapter.
In "Changing Views of Knowledge and the Struggle for Undergraduate Theatre Curriculum, 1900–1980," Berkeley explains how the theoretical functions of universities created a craft-or-culture dispute that pits the utilitarian training of professional crafts against the humanistic cultivation of audience cultures. While offering no solutions to end this content-based impasse, she argues convincingly that the study of theatre must be reframed within current university models of corporate social efficiency that position students as consumers of material culture. Given budget-strapped theatre departments with costly production units that often compete with campus roadhouses, she calls on faculty to persuade administrators of theatre's indispensability in educating future spectators by not relying on twentieth-century philosophies that promise progressive change (21–24).
Nevertheless, passionate desires to transform, cultivate, or "change" students' minds, bodies, and voices through experiential performances underlie many subsequent essays, as many authors rely upon pedagogical theories from the 1920s to accommodate both craft and culture paradigms. Applying Vygotsky's apprentice model of scaffolding and Dewey's pragmatism, future theatre artists "learn by doing" respective crafts from "masters" (who tend to repeat what they learned from their own masters). This labor-intensive mentoring benefits private consumers—at the expense of universities' social efficiency dictates—and inevitably leads professors "to teach the individual student rather than the subject matter" (91), as Michael Wright confirms in his essay on playwriting. Pedagogical histories of acting, directing, and survey courses reveal further problems of intellectual reception and transmission in that acting theories and collective approaches to directing lag about twenty years behind contemporary practices. Psychological realism retains its seventy-year stronghold despite ethnographic theories that grapple with "the impossibility of playing another" (122), as Nathan Stucky and Jessica Tomell-Presto point out.
Several essays offer numerous compelling insights about how to "sell" theatre to increasingly narcissistic student consumers, especially in Introduction to Theatre courses where craft–culture conflicts are often manifest. In "All Things to All People," Lynne Greeley surveys how instructors attempt to contradict consumer-driven pop culture through participatory "self-conscious communities" that emphasize performance as a way of knowing "lived experiences" with multidesigned projects and campus productions (139...