I take a holistic approach to my teaching that speaks to the mind, body, and heart. This method is broken down into three ideas: core philosophy, instructional technique, and behavioral ideas. My core belief is that the development of emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills affects all learning and, therefore, should a part of all teaching outcomes. It should not just be taught once as a FYE course or some separate elective but should be included in the matrix of outcomes of all courses for the entire length of the student's educational term. All classes that I have taught have been informed by teaching students to think critically and to understand how to have strong emotional intelligence. These skills provide students with real life tools to confront and manage self-consciousness and insecurity the two principal blocks that impedes self-discovery and slow down cooperative learning. Critical thinking and emotional intelligence help students to understand and find great satisfaction working within and contributing to a group. My goal is to provide students with a robust cognitive framework from which they can scaffold toward deeper insights and most importantly; feel empowered to exercise creative and original thinking.
The instructional process I use in the classroom has grown out of two learning theories and one scientific fact. First, Howard Earl Gardner’s conclusion from “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” that each person has within one mind differing intelligences that are quite independent of each other. Secondly, it is recognized that college age students still do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that coordinates higher-order cognitive processes and executive functioning. This means we need to demonstrate to students the need to exercise balanced decision-making. Thirdly, Jean Piaget’s study of cognitive development where he concludes that we not only inherit what we think but how we think. The conclusion there is that the student in the classroom is not an empty vessel but instead is a complete person with a personal and familial history that plays an important part in the processing of information. From these three ideas, I have come to prefer a multimodal instructional method, as it has been a successful process through which I can reach multiple learners in one setting. I use a teaching forward modality, which means that I connect the student to the instructional outcomes from multiple planes and trajectories. This strategy is even more effective because I use it in a learning environment that is free of favoritism and needless competition. A place that actively encourages risk and allows for mistakes, a place where everyone contributes to the whole. The ensemble is paramount. I have found that this strategy not only works in a more kinesthetic setting such as an acting class but also has been equally effective in a traditional lecture/classroom setting.
My philosophy also includes the concept that productions should be an extension of the classroom. Therefore, students must exercise personal responsibility, decorum, and discipline in both the classroom and in rehearsal. These behavioral components actively demonstrate to the students that their own talents will not be realized unless they know how to work cooperatively, project a professional attitude and know that there are always consequences to their actions.
In the end, I want students to reach their creative potential, and I want to deliver to the world a graduate who will be a lifelong learner, an engaged citizen, and an empathetic human being. The holistic process of teaching to the mind, body, and heart has worked consistently at all the different institutions I have taught. I believe it allows the teacher to remove themselves from the strict tenants of a particular pedagogy and focus, instead, on the growth of the student.
I have been a professional Actor/Director and a member of Actor’s Equity for over 20 years. I was also the Artistic Director of a Professional Equity SPT Tier 8 theatre company. Diversity and all its empathic intention have been the hallmark of my profession. The professional theatre community in this country has, since the turn of the twentieth century, promoted and exercised diversity both onstage and off. From the great Paul Robeson to George C Wolf. From the public rejection of blackface performers on stage to the codification of color-blind casting and the embrace of gender-neutral casting.
From Larry Kramer to Tony Kushner to David Henry Hwang; the professional theatre has been a home of broad inclusivity. This grand home also invites the opportunity for disenfranchised youth as reflected in the work ‘Runaways” conceived by Elizabeth Swados, as well the physically disabled as reflected in Deaf West’s reimagining of ‘Spring Awakening.” In the professional theatre, we understand that, with diversity, there is great storytelling. With diversity, comes a pool of talent that provides unique perspectives on all the processes exercised when creating a piece of theatre. With diversity, comes great learning and the knowledge that no matter what culture we claim, what sex we may be, if we are with a physical disability or without a common language we are inherently the same when it comes to that journey of becoming, as Maslow put forth, self-actualized. So how does one define diversity? The most useful and actionable definition of diversity can be found in Preamble of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
That preamble is the intellectual platform and moral direction I use to guide my efforts of diversity in leadership in the non-profit sector and also in my teaching when I entered higher education, as Director of Theatre at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina Kansas. I believe higher education affords a great opportunity to step away from what we believe to be true so that we can see a different conception of truth through someone else’s eyes. The academic community can and should be a microcosm of experiences and ideas that exists in the sunshine of discussion, debate, bold experimentation and intense creativity. Plain and simple, embracing and promoting diversity makes sense
In the classroom, I work to create open and safe learning environments in which students feel free to express ideas, opinions, and worldviews. I encourage students to explore difference, to find strength and inspiration in our unique qualities. I believe that in order achieve any effective climate of diversity students must be taught and practice critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. Faculty and administrators must practice the same skills as well: for a culturally diverse environment exists on the foundation of sound reasoned thinking. I feel that an open dialogue between divergent groups that informs and teaches can allow understanding of how much we do have in common. Dialogue is a powerful tool, which, according to William Issacs in his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together published in 1999 “…is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater common sense…” (p.19). In leadership positions as Artistic Director and Director of Theatre, I felt it a moral imperative to use my position to highlight the advantages and strengths of working to achieve a positive balance of diversity in the workforce. In 1995, I developed an employee manual, for the theatre company I founded, that moved beyond the basic EEOC requirements at the time and spelled out specific workplace rules to ensure rights for our LGBT employees, physically challenged and ensure same pay rights for non-union female workers. In season after season, I made efforts at gender neutral and color-blind casting as well as reaching out to the growing multi-cultural population surrounding our community finding opportunities of inclusion in all phases and levels of our company. As an Assistant Professor and Director of the Theatre Program at Kansas Wesleyan University, I continually searched for opportunities that reflected a belief that we are part of a world community and that our output, as a learning community, should reflect that same belief. I created an environment in which the theatre department was a safe port of expression. Where the art form of live theatrical performances could encourage awareness, debates and unpack perceived differences. I assembled diverse panels for post-show discussions following a production of, “Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” At Kansas Wesleyan University. The panels consisted of clergy, mothers of Gay and Transgender children, politicians, academics and the LGBT student community. This exercise was a transformative event for many on campus. In another example in 2007 Kansas Wesleyan University had a year long cross-campus discussion on human dignity. We engaged in that dialogue, as a theatre department, by producing Eve Ensler’s, “Necessary Targets.” I surrounded that production with speakers and discussions about violence against women. We raised money for rape crises centers and women's shelters. These are just a few examples out of many where I used the totality of a theatre production for enlightenment; stories that show the ties that bind us and stories of the transgressions of humankind.
I have used, in my professional and academic careers, the unique qualities of a live theatre production to shine a light on our shared humanity. Using the tools of gender-neutral casting, color-blind casting, working to encourage those who are physically challenged to participate on or off stage, experimenting with combining languages, dialects and regional vernacular speak all to push a narrative of the importance, the brilliance and the beauty of our shared coexistence. I am committed, as an academic and as a freelance professional, to continue to swim in the wake of cultural diversity. It is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and opening the door of compassion and empathy allows the theatre to travel in an infinite space of possibilities.
An argument no have a FYE class for Theatre students
What are the competencies that students, graduating from a theatre program in
acting, expected to have? Looking at the competencies published in the NAST
Handbook for BFA in Acting, students are expected to possess and demonstrate a
strong body of knowledge, both theoretical and practical. Most, if not all, colleges
and universities (even if they are not members of NAST) subscribe to the idea of the
competencies listed in the handbook. Looking through the NAST Handbook and
researching competencies published separately by individual educational
institutions, I notice that little is said about learning basic life skills such as critical
thinking and emotional intelligence. It is one thing to possess high performative
skills, but it is an altogether different thing to be in possession of the skills essential
for managing life and career. Learning these skills is often overlooked by the
departments and programs, but it is an essential aspect of the education of a theatre
student. Educators must consider if the student is prepared to live a healthy life and
to contribute to the profession not just as a performer, but also as an active citizen
of that profession. It should be the responsibility of theatre programs for where else
would a student receive this critical teaching training. To a performer, learning how
to contribute positively to a work environment, solve problems, and have effective
communication skills is necessary. Critical thinking and emotional intelligence need
to be an essential piece contained within the competencies of every theatre
I believe that these skills must be addressed up front at the beginning of a college
career, and taught by addressing what I call the Five Vitals: effective listening,
tackling insecurity, managing self-consciousness, learning to work cooperatively,
and promoting a relaxed, effective physical communication. By examining these
particular emotional and cognitive traits, students will grow to have the tools at
hand to become more emotionally intelligent and substantial critical thinkers.
Insecurities, self-consciousness, lack of listening skills, inability to work in groups,
and the lack of any real physical expression would often be interpreted as some
behavioral or personality quirk. Something that exists in the hard wiring of a
student and cannot be unlearned, or something that only time and experience can
tame. However, this notion only promotes teaching half of the student. Theatre
departments must think holistically and deliver to the world a graduate who will be
a lifelong learner, an engaged citizen, a human being. To be, as Abraham Maslow
described in his theory of hierarchic Needs, a self-actualized person.
I have been an equity actor for over 25 years. I have also directed professionally for
the same amount of time. Early in my career, I was deeply unsatisfied with the
process of working and I can quite understand why. I was stuck in some myopic
loop of self-centeredness. I lacked good coping skills, critical thinking, and emotional
intelligence skills which served to block any satisfaction and growth. Of course, I
never learned these skills at any level of my education, high school, college or
graduate school. Learning to play in the same sandbox with others was a challenge
for me until I began to read about critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence.
It was then that I became aware that I needed to practice these skills to engage with
the world as a total human being, and not just as a person of moderate talents. I
needed to think like a scientist when it came to managing my life and my personal
self within the context of my profession. That I had an obligation to the performers
who were on stage with me, as well as to the whole industry itself. It was then that I
began to feel a sense of satisfaction.
In 1995, I helped to start a small SPT Tier 8 theatre in the Midwest. I was the Artistic
Director, and we were a theatre company that provided good, solid, and interesting
work for the professionals in our region. We also provided that first important
stepping stone for young persons graduating from higher educational programs. It
was in that role of Artistic Director that I began to see a pattern in performers fresh
out of programs, as well as in some older professionals (a pattern that I recognized
in myself at one time). Time and again, while navigating through the script in
rehearsals I also found myself having to traverse a landscape of self-consciousness,
insecurity, poor interpersonal skills, listening issues, discipline issues, and a lack of
collaborative connection with the ensemble. Issues not easily spotted in an audition.
Eventually, to counter these aberrant situations, I began, when a company gathered
for the first read, to recite a little speech about how we are to conduct ourselves. I
would speak about working stress-free, committing to the ensemble, and knowing
how to interact in a positive manner. I found that I needed to speak the speech as it
were so that we could rehearse in an effective and productive manner. Our time was
tight, so work process was important. There was a moment when I thought that
maybe our company was an anomaly; that there was something inherent in our
structure that caused behavioral issues to pop up. But then it came to me one day
that the speech I was giving was one that I heard before, back when I was an actor
traveling about the country working at various LORT companies. While we sat at the
table before the first read, there was always the speech. Why?
Why was it necessary to remind one how to comport oneself in a professional
setting? Had we suddenly lost the ability to conduct ourselves properly as
professionals? Was this sudden or has it always been gnawing about at the edges? I
understand that rants, tirades, bad behaviors and bursting egos have been the
accepted background noise of our profession. History describes it so. In some ways,
we relish stories of egomaniacal demagogues and divas, and delight in the stories of
their raging sandstorms of dysfunctionality. but why? We do not expect doctors,
pilots, lawyers (just to name a few professions) to act in an unprofessional way. In
fact, we are deeply shocked and taken aback when they demonstrate anything less
than compassionate behavior. When we receive services from some minimum wage
workers at a drive-up window, we expect that the service should be a pristine, near
joyous experience, filled with smiles and ’thank you’ and ‘please come again.’
Nevertheless, in our profession, we allow and excuse gaps in human civility. Why?
What is the cause? I would argue that it is the inability to really listen as well as an
ego, plagued by self-consciousness and insecurity. It is an inability to trust others
and work cooperatively. It’s related to not feeling secure in one’s own body and not
knowing how to freely express oneself physically. It is the Five Vitals, unbalanced
and out-of-control, blocking any critical thinking or any emotional intelligence.
In 2007, I took a position as Director of Theatre at a small private university in the
Midwest. It was there that I encountered head on the problems I saw as an artistic
director and actor only in its rawest form. Freshman and sophomores, having left
home for the first time, were lost in a weedy tumult of insecurity. The compass
points of personal responsibility and value judgments, now without any prompting
from parental figures, were redefined and pointing toward a cynical selfpreferentialism.
Juniors and seniors mired in the bad habits of comparison and
competition with other students in the program (habits that existed from high
school). Upper-classman felt exposed and abnormal like a herd of Holden Caulfields,
milling about and worrying about how they will live a normal life when the fouryear
Theatre party finally ends.
It was there, in that position, that I came to believe that the current state of actor
training in higher education, at the undergraduate level, just may be wrong. That we
may have it backwards. That we are creating graduates who are well versed in
replicating outcomes of whatever performance theorist is taught in a program (from
Stanislavsky to Chekhov to Meisner to Viewpoints training), but we have not always
explicitly addressed the basic life skills of that student. That for the most part,
students graduate with a mimetic acting process that merely echoes the personal
aesthetic of a particular teacher or a program. Not all, but many programs are stuck
in perception and not process. The perception of what makes a student a good
performer, as opposed to a process that celebrates and nurtures the individuality of
the student: to let the students think for themselves, Cogito ergo sum.
Theatre programs and departments need to teach students how to be life-long
learners, engage proactively with the society as a whole, as well as with other
smaller communities and networks they encounter in life. They need to instill in the
students the value of having a healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual lives.
This teaching should not be left to some campus-wide first-year program, it should
be taught within the Theatre department itself. This learning of appropriate life skills
should start at the beginning of a college career to address the Five Vitals: listening,
tackling insecurity, managing self-consciousness, collaboration and personal
physical expression. Addressing them before any intensive training begins would
provide the proper foundation for growth in critical thinking and emotional
intelligence that would serve the student beyond graduation. Students must be
taught consistency not only in performance on stage but in how they conduct
themselves in a professional setting. Students must learn that existing positively
within a profession that is chaotic, inconsistent, and emotionally burdensome
requires perspective and measured thinking. Theatre productions and the theatrical
organizations that produce them not only require good acting, but require, as well,
professional conduct that is ethical, positive, and proactive. Being professional does
not just mean your union card alone.
Now I understand that educators would argue that they could address and work on
the five traits mentioned above while at the same time learning an acting process.
That learning an acting process actually addresses these traits. However, I would
argue that this is not the most productive process, and may force students into
acquiring bad habits and inhibit coping skills. The reason being that actor training
has an output of assessments: rewards, accolades, and favoritism. A performer’s
self–esteem is inextricably attached to the approval of the instructor and to what, if
any, reward, accolade, and favoritism are meted out. Students perceive, through an
emotional lens, what a director or teacher may like or dislike. Misunderstandings
are inevitable and become exacerbated by the tribal nature of the classroom or
rehearsal and the resultant competitive hierarchy that forms.
Students at this early part of their college career are still motivated by what
Abraham Maslow calls “the deficiency needs.” They are: physiological, safety, love,
and esteem. According to Maslow, all of the deficiency needs must be satisfied
before a person can act unselfishly. It is at this stage that bad coping habits may
form and inhibit value judgment, interpersonal communication and cooperation.
These behaviors risk becoming a permanent part of a student’s personality matrix.
This cannot help but be true given the fact that students at this age are yet to
develop fully, a prefrontal cortex. This is an important fact to understand.
The prefrontal cortex coordinates higher-order cognitive processes and executive
functioning. Executive functions are a set of supervisory cognitive skills needed for
goal-directed behavior, including planning, response inhibition, working memory,
and attention. These skills allow an individual to pause long enough to take stock of
a situation, assess his or her options, plan a course of action, and execute it. Poor
executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback,
and mental inflexibility, all of which could undermine judgment and decision
making. Fairly recently, child psychologists have been given a new directive, which
is that the age range they work with is increasing from 0–18 to 0–25. In a
Washington Post article by Arthur Allen, published on September 1, 2014, he quotes
Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychology professor addressing the late
adolescent brain development, “When people are around 15 or 16 years old, many
brain cells in the cortex die off while others are created, and new connections form
among them. A lot of the basic cognitive abilities — advanced reasoning, abstract
thinking, self-consciousness — rapidly expand during this period. The connections
within the brain don’t fully branch out until age 22 or so. The kinds of capabilities
that connectivity contributes to — emotion regulation and impulse control —
probably plateau in the early to mid-20s.”
Exposing freshman and sophomore undergraduate students to the rigors of a
training program without first teaching them the skills of listening, working
cooperatively (giving to the ensemble,) managing insecurity, enhancing selfconsciousness,
and how to express themselves physically (not as a character but as
themselves) might be asking too much. Students should be provided with
preparation for the actual training of any specific performance technique. Not only
would this approach benefit a student’s overall maturity and ensure that bad habits
are not formed, but it would also greatly benefit the individual programs and the
instructors by providing the gift of an early insight regarding how a student is
learning. It would present an opportunity to gauge the gap between what a learner
has already mastered (the actual level of development) and what he or she can
achieve when provided with educational support (potential development),
otherwise known as the zone of proximal development. Obtaining this knowledge
and foresight would only increase teacher performance as it would be like having a
road map to the cognitive traps and potential of any particular student.
A good example of what I am arguing for can be seen in the preparatory process
going on in most colleges and universities today. In a report by The National Center
for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board
entitled “Beyond the Rhetoric Improving College Readiness Through Coherent State
Policy” they state that, “every year in the United States, nearly 60% of first-year
college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are
not ready for postsecondary studies.” That said, how many high school theatre
programs actively teach any of the Five Vitals as part of an active curriculum? Who
is the responsible party to teach basic life skills?
In 2011, The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation released a Policy Paper entitled,
“Engendering College Student Success: Improving the First Year and Beyond” Robert
S. Feldman and Mattitiyahu S. Zimbler of University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
They argue for a more robust approach to First Year Experience (FYE) programs
and courses. “Benefits of FYE courses are not limited to the classroom. Survey data
show that students who enroll in FYE courses acquire skills that help them thrive in
many aspects of college life. For instance, a large percentage of the surveyed
institutions report that students who take FYE courses connect better with their
peers are more satisfied with their collegiate institutions and with their faculty,
make better use of campus services, and participate more often in campus activities.
These findings show how successful FYE courses are in achieving objectives that
relate to the non-academic challenges of college life. Overall, the research
demonstrates that FYE courses can play a significant role in helping undergraduates
succeed in college. Most obviously, they help students during one of the most
difficult periods of college—the first year. But successful FYE programs have been
found to improve a student’s college experience all the way to graduation. FYE
courses help individual students adjust academically, socially, and personally to the
challenges of college life. Just as importantly, they help build cohesion among firstyear
students by bringing them together with the faculty in a shared experience
with their first-year peers.
Providing students with a set of cogitative tools that allow for a deeper, more
meaningful learning experience puts them at an advantage beyond college because
they have had four years to practice and refine good critical thinking habits.
Although incoming freshmen in theatre programs are enrolled in campus-wide FYE
courses, I would argue that theatre departments and programs need to create their
own discipline-specific FYE programs and apply them to their first-year theatre
students. Here are the reasons why: theatre students must deeply mine their very
own intellectual and emotional depths, they must come to terms with their body
image and just what their bodies can do, and they must learn to work in an
ensemble, which means your commitment to your fellow performers is not based on
being a ‘best friend’ but on being a kind and courteous professional. The professors
and instructors in the department are fully aware of the unique aspects of actor
training. Therefore, it only makes sense that they teach an FYE type of program. As
stated previously, this would benefit the instructors, providing them with insight on
how their students learn. For the students, they would have a more energized and
focused learning processes.
During my first year as Director of Theatre at a small liberal arts university, I found
it necessary to experiment with my teaching strategies. I did this initially because
the students’ knowledge of and experience with theatre differed widely. Many
students came from small towns that had little or no organized high school theatre.
Others came from larger communities whose high school programs had a heavy
production schedule but no serious classroom work. I felt like a lone cowboy trying
to corral wild horses. Most of the students were innately talented, but the totality of
that talent was blocked by fear, misplaced ego, feelings of entitlement, and a lack of
understanding of the importance of giving all to the ensemble. By the end of the first
year, I was exhausted and frustrated. I knew I had to directly address the obstacles
that thwarted a deep and meaningful education.
That summer, at a teaching conference, I attended a workshop on multimodal
teaching strategies and course design. From that workshop, an idea emerged: what
if I were to take a series of acting exercises from varied pedagogies and then use
them, not to teach acting per say but instead to speak to the Five Vitals. For example,
if one is going to focus on learning to listen deeply to each other, not just with the
ears, but with the whole body. You could have a kinesthetic modality like The
Twelve/Six/Four exercise from Viewpoints. Approaching the same topic using
different modalities, like the Meisner Repetition exercise or Del Close’s
improvisation exercise, “Fifty.” Add a modality like the partnering exercises
developed by Steve Paxton. Rubrics could be written along the lines of how the
student engages in the exercise, and how the student synthesizes the learning that is
promoted in each exercise. Assessments would be based on feedback from students,
and discussion of principles and importance. But most importantly, this multimodal
based approach would impact all learners.
Developmental physiologist Howard Earl Gardner in his classic work, “Frames of
Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences” posits the notion that people have
different strengths and intelligences.
“… that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other;
that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far
from unencumbered at birth.” (Gardner 1993: xxiii)
A majority of the faculty in higher education, I believe, understand that the
landscape of learners in any classroom is uneven. Not every student gets the same
instruction because they absorb information based on their own types and levels of
intelligences. Gardner stresses that it is the interaction between the different
intelligences that is fundamental to the workings of the mind. Therefore, I knew it
was important to find various delivery methods for the same piece of information or
idea. Additionally, working with multiple modalities allowed me the space to
address how the students were processing information. Jean Piaget, who was the
first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development, considered
that we inherit a specific method of functioning, a manner of thinking. It is not that
we inherit what we think, but how we think. It is as if we are born with a basic
pattern of intellectual structure, which allows us to adapt to our environment. We
adapt to the environment by modifying ourselves, and this is done by two
mechanisms: assimilation and accommodation.
Teaching with a multimodal strategy and working on the Five Vitals allowed the
students to adapt, absorb, and react to the actual information and not on the way it
was being dispensed. Students did not compete with each other, but instead worked
with each other at becoming proficient at problem solving. What became prevalent
in the classroom was the idea being taught. It was the message, not the messenger.
As I applied this multimodal strategy, cooperative learning in the classroom soared.
Students were beginning to find the confidence in themselves that they thought they
never had. They were discovering the humanity within themselves and how to
project it onto others. An example of this happened in one class session while we
were working on how to listen with the body—how to live in an empathetic mode. I
had two students, who I will refer to as Student A and Student B, sitting back-to-back
on the ground, arms locked around each other. The task was that, working
together, both would rise to a standing position without unlocking their arms or
falling over. They could take as much time as they needed. For a bit of background,
when I started working with student A, she was very unfocused, aloof, and not
connected with anyone in the class. Student B, on the other hand, was an overaggressive
overachiever who was always looking at every exercise as a competition,
as opposed to a learning moment. During the exercise (as with all exercises), the
rest of the class was sitting in a circle around student A and student B, observing
them. The exercise began, and for fifteen minutes it seemed as if students A and B
were in a Sisyphean struggle. Two independent-minded students were unable to
read or cooperate and were working against each other. The room was hot, and they
were sweating, clearly frustrated and barking orders at each other, both trying to
solve this exercise independently as if it were a nuisance. I stepped in and asked
them to stop and to try again, and this time without talking and just intuit the other
person. Learn about them by listening with your whole body. After a long moment,
they both, without prompting, closed their eyes and remained still for quite some
time. Gradually you could see them, back-to-back, almost fold into each other. They
started to breathe in unison. Then slowly and seemingly without any struggle, they
rose up to a standing position. Immediately, they both burst into tears and hugged
each other. The students who were sitting in a circle, watching them, spontaneously
stood up and went to hug the two students. In the discussion that followed, all the
observing students commented on how they could see Students A and B slowly peel
back the protective layers that guarded their individual personalities and gave into
each other. Students A and B both said they cried not because they completed the
exercise, but because of the intense joy they felt inside when they opened up to each
other and really listened. It was like receiving a wonderful gift. To this day, students
A and B, both of whom now lead happy and successful lives, talk about what a
revelatory moment that was and how much they learned in that class.
Over one academic year (two semesters), the class, which was a mixture of
freshman and sophomores, met twice a week, each session being 90 minutes long. I
also added several pieces to complement classroom instruction. Rehearsals of a
production became an extension of the classroom. I planned every rehearsal
meticulously—meaning, I had an exact game plan of what we should accomplish in
the rehearsal, and the exact time we have to do it in. This meant that everyone from
the stage manager to the performer, everyone had a stake in making certain that the
rehearsal was highly productive. Because of the exactitude of the schedule, we could
assess progress and pinpoint any issues that may arise, much like a project manager.
I added a group warm up to the top of the rehearsal, and a group cool down after the
rehearsal wherein we summed up what we did or did not accomplish, and if needed,
what we could do as a group to help one another during rehearsals. I also projected
what I call soft power to help sharpen discipline. Everyone who teaches agrees that
it is important to create a safe learning environment wherein students can take risks
and make mistakes without the fear of admonishment. When it came to regulating
behaviors in the classroom and a production setting, the same idea was applied. As
with all college syllabi, I published what was expected in class. I also outlined the
circumstances if expectations were not met. I had the students sign this section of
the syllabi—this was our contract. I repeated the same idea for rehearsals. The
expectations were centered solely on personal responsibility, decorum, and
discipline. If expectations were not met, circumstances were summarily dealt with
devoid of any high emotions. It never was personal; it was merely correcting agreed upon
behaviors. In essence, I was instituting a variation of Faye and Cline’s “Love
and Logic.” The final piece was that theatre students had to perform volunteer
service on behalf of the theatre department. This not only benefited the department
regarding its outreach to the community, but it also placed the students outside the
curtain call and ovation, and into a conscious act of giving without expectations.
By the end of that academic year, I saw real progress in the maturity levels and the
work ethic of the students. Because the students were exercising positivity and
preparedness, the department was able then to scaffold off the preparatory
instructional efforts, towards more complex and challenging material both in the
classroom and on stage. Earlier, I said that there was a significant uptick in
cooperative learning, and this seemed to be the greatest outcome of the preparatory
class. Students began to feel a great responsibility toward each other and the
department. Not only did they help each other in class but in rehearsals and
productions as well. A new feeling of professionalism emerged within the
department, which was promoted by the students. I used to say that, “For me, as a
professor, to impact your lives you must want to learn. You must always meet me
half way. I cannot bring the horse to the well as it were; you must want to be here.”
They did, and together we worked to graduate well-prepared students.
Personal experience and practical application have demonstrated that successful
engagement with the Five Vitals at the beginning of a college career does make a
difference. Students are better off when they know how to manage themselves
within the context of their own disciplines. An important illustration of what I am
advocating for can be found on the bookshelves in libraries and bookstores all
across this country. Business books that focus on the urgent need to develop adroit
critical thinking skills and a strong emotional intelligence argue that a strong, highly
productive worker is one who can manage life and business stress. Businesses
throughout this country try to create work environments that build self-esteem and
promote collaboration, thus increasing creativity and productivity.
Psychologists in article after article tout the need for life balance and personal
empowerment. This is what every theatre program and department in this country
should be doing. To understand that there is a solemn obligation not just to mentor
a fine performer, but to guide a student toward empowerment and enlightenment.
Around the world, businesses are begging universities to provide them with wellrounded
students. A recent new employer survey from the Association of American
Colleges and Universities strongly suggests that employers want recent college
graduates to be broadly educated. The surveyors interviewed 318 employers with at
least 25 employees, wherein, at least, a quarter of the new hires hold either an
associate or a bachelors degree. Here are some key findings:
· 93 percent of employers said that a demonstrated capacity to think critically,
communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a job
candidate's undergraduate degree.
· 95 percent say they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help
them contribute to innovation in the workplace.
· 80 percent of employers agree that regardless of their major, every college
student should acquire broad knowledge in liberal arts and sciences.
· 95 percent of those surveyed say that it is important that new hires demonstrate
ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued
These are also the exact skills required for any sustainable growth to occur in the
theatre industry in this country. We need to teach forward and imbue students with
the notion that they have a responsibility to themselves, and to the growth of the art
form. The process toward that growth begins with a strong mind, open heart, and a
healthy body. It is time to include in the core competencies of all theatre programs
and departments, the ability to think critically and have strong emotional