Sunday, September 6, 2009
Acting and academia
I was a univeristy theatre department chairman, theatre program director and theatre professor for 28 years and before that had been a university theatre instuctor for four years. I designed and taught a variety of acting classes. Looking back now some dozen years after I retired, I have realized the weakenss of teaching acting in an academic setting. Besides the fact that my academic superiors, regardless of their lack of knowledge concerning theatre and acting, always new a better way of doing what I was trying to do. They are much like liberal politicians in that way, and of course many were politically liberal, assuming they knew better than the experts in the field. Anyway, their constant meddling, often ludicous such as when I was told I should produce a morality play every year, so I asked, "You mean like, 'Everyman?"" "Yes,"they(my dean and department chair) knowingly replied. "That would become rather tedious," I answered, "since 'Everyman' is the only extant Medieval morality play." They just sat there, dumbfounded. Academia has, with reason, some mistrust of things artistic. Theatre is the weak link in the creativea arts in academia. Music and Fine Art are much more widely accepted. Music is so widely popular, following years of excellent PR by the educational music organizations, that it is more nearly considered a necessity rather than an art. Everyone has music in their lives, but, save for the entertainment media (featuring all of those immoral and odd people that are reported about in the news media), theatre is an ugly stepchild. That makes it difficult to even get in the curriculum, and to sustaing and make grow with in academia as well. The point of all this is that acting and academia are a poor fit. They just don't get along.. While Music is allowed to give credit for classes that have no reading, writing, or written testing, theatre seldom is. Vocal and instrumental students take individual and group instruction which consists of merely performing and being criticised for imporvement. Acting classes are hardly ever so. They are full of reading and writing assignments (that the students and the faculty have been told will help the students with their acting) and then are allowed a bit of actual performance and critique. But because of acting (and theatre in general) having to be made academically viable, the performance of acting is neglected. A reading of college and university catelog description of acting classes is ample evidence that few in academia are taking acting as an art seriously,. The educationalese and catch phrases used by acting teachers to make their courses sound academic are quite laughable by someone who understands what acting is and how it needs to be "taught". Topics for future posts: how theatre became academic, what is the art of theatre? and If actors are born and not made, what is taught in acting classes and how are they taught? Stay tuned.