- Studio Teaching in Retirement: When the Teacher Is Ready, the Student Appears
I retired from university teaching a few years ago after more than three decades in the classroom. Although I found myself busier than ever with a variety of projects, I also found myself mulling over the things I missed about my time on the university campus. After colleagues and students, I realized that I missed the teaching process. Specifically, I missed the opportunity to assist acting majors on the journey that prepared them to move from the classroom to the professional world. I missed the emotional and artistic roller coaster that is inherent in leading young, often inexperienced actors as they find their way through the intricate performance process.
When I agreed to direct a production a year ago for an area theatre, I cast a handful of alumni from our acting program, several of whom I had not seen since their graduation a dozen years earlier. The rehearsal process was fun, igniting the teacher in me once again, and suddenly, I witnessed the Buddhist saying turned upside down: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Now, the students appeared before the teacher: in this case, six of them, all alumni, most from ten-to-twelve years post-graduation. Both they and I had moved on from academic life. These young adults were embedded in careers that included, to greater or lesser degrees depending on the individual, performance work. But all of the actors involved wanted to broaden their artistic prospects. For many, this was also a make-or-break moment. In speaking with acting alumni in the past, the ten-year mark was a definitive one. I had even heard, “if I haven’t succeeded in my profession in ten years, maybe it’s time to call it quits.” There was a lot at stake for these actors at this point in their careers. I decided to start an acting class.
Although, like many professors, I had consistently urged graduating seniors over the years to persist in honing their craft after leaving the campus, I had not foreseen that I would be the conduit for their continuing education. Apparently, I was not finished with the “teaching acting” part of my life: synchronicity was at work in a way I had not anticipated.
Facing choices regarding their acting careers, the pressures of their “bridge jobs,” and attempts to stay on top of the profession, the actors wanted a class to sharpen their acting skills, someplace to practice the techniques they had accumulated over the years. Just as important, however, they craved a community setting that also provided a “well done” when they succeeded and encouragement when they struggled. In short, they needed a combination support group and acting studio, a place where they could trust both the process and the participants, because they knew one another and they knew me; a place with a strong focus on process, as well as product. We were a good fit. I quickly learned that this was a kind of second chance for both the actors and me: a chance to take our knowledge and experience of teaching and learning and kick it up a notch. We were all about to enter a new phase, a rather unique pairing of retired faculty and alumni.
Once I came to terms with my decision to get back to the “classroom,” choosing a model for the studio was not difficult. I wanted a comfortable setting that was conducive to creativity, free from distractions, and that offered the kind of intimacy that gave permission for the class members to open up both emotionally and physically. If I had wanted a more institutional feel, I knew I could [End Page 169] have pursued adjunct teaching at one of the many universities in my part of New Jersey. Rather, I wanted to relate to these alumni personally, in a way I had not been able to years earlier when they were younger, more immature, and sometimes less committed to their studies and professional careers, when they were not always completely certain about what they were doing in an acting program anyway. With the...