“Okay, class,” Professor McPsycho chimes. She puts her fingers to her temples and rubs them, as if she has a migraine. Her eyes are closed. “On Monday, I want you to come in here, and…” She flings her right hand out, pointing towards the back of the room. Her eyes are still closed. She finishes, “…and wait.” She turns around and strolls out of the room.
I look at my neighbor. He looks back at me with the most puzzled expression I’ve ever seen. I glance at the rest of my classmates, and they’re equally dumbfounded. After several moments of silence, the class finally begins to start the process of leaving the studio theatre and moving on to our next class or whatever it is that we have to do. In my case, lunch.
The weekend flies by, as weekends tend to do in my town. Monday morning quickly arrives, and I stroll off to class. I sit down off to the side, so I can watch my classmates’ reactions to the lesson. I like to watch people, to see if they understand as well (or as poorly) as I do what is being taught. McPsycho strolls into the room, her presence dominating everyone’s mind. She spins around, looks at the class, and smiles.
“Good morning, everyone,” she chimes. She looks around. “Who would like to perform their homework assignment first?”
I had a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling. Nobody moves. Nobody knows what the homework assignment actually is. A very bad feeling.
“How about you?” McPsycho is staring at me.
I shake my head and shrug as if to say, “Sorry, didn’t do it.” She shakes her head at me and makes a mark in her book.
“Should’ve been prepared. Tsk tsk.” She looks around.
“Fluffy!” McPsycho calls out to a short guy with curly red hair. He awkwardly walks up to the front of the room. He clearly has no clue what he’s supposed to be doing. McPsycho smiles broadly and sits down and watches. Fluffy just sits there, doing nothing.
“Bravo!” McPsycho exclaims.
The entire class looks bewildered, Fluffy included.
“Now, class,” she says in her sing-song voice. “Who wants to wait next?”
I nearly fall out of my chair. She had wanted us to act like we were waiting for something. The rest of the class went up there, one by one, and pretended to wait for a bus or for a friend or for whatever. I sat off to the side, frustrated and flustered. I got a zero for the assignment.
This is what comes of so-called teachers who once read portions of An Actor Prepares (not the whole thing -- I mean, who actually reads the whole thing, right? That would take, like, hours! And then there are all the sequels -- Building a Character and Creating a Role -- I mean, jeez Louise, there must be a show to rehearse) and who came away thinking that being an acting teacher means keeping students baffled and humiliated. It prepares them for the Real World.
In fact, it is abuse, and deserves to be called what it is: bullshit. There is absolutely no value in making your "homework assignment" so obscure that the students don't even know it is an assignment. In addition, this teacher better have had a damn good reason to have asked students to learn how to "wait," because if that was the sole purpose of the "exercise" it is empty nonsense, which is what all too much acting "training" amounts to.
Dear readers, I suspect that you, too, have suffered such idiotic pedagogy during your undergraduate (and graduate?) education. Please, please feel free to use my comments box to share those experiences. It is only when such idiocy is exposed, and the charlatans who pass it off as teaching are unmasked, that things might actually get better. (I almost feel as if I owe it to the profession to create a new blog devoted wholly to the topic of horrible theatre teachers, but I don't think I could stand the daily frustration.) If you wish to remain anonymous, email me at walt828 at gmail dot com.
This teacher's idiocy is dwarfed by the "Backstage Editorial Department" at Backstage's "BlogStage" (blogstage? blogstage??? WTF?), which wrote a post entitled "The Sweet and Sour Smell of Regional Theatre Success" (a title that has all the wit and grace of a bowling ball rolling down the stairs) that addresses Mike Daisey's essay and performance "How Theatre Failed America." Before we deal with the heart of this post, let's start with the backstage editorial department's (BED for short) reference to President Bush's increase of $20.1M to the NEA budget, which restores the NEA budget to $144.7M, the "highest level since 1995" as the BED trumpets, as "fiscal nirvana." Let's just think about that for a moment -- "fiscal nirvana." Funding levels of 1995.
A quick Google search for an inflation calculator reveals that $144.7M in 1995 would have to be $200M today to be equivalent. So in fact, far from fiscal nirvana, this budget represents a 27.6% DECREASE over 1995 levels of funding.
But the reality comes into even great focus when you realize that the NEA budget in 1981 was $159M. 1981 was the first year of the Ronald Reagan presidency. Had the NEA budget simply kep up with inflation, its 2007 budget would be $395M.
In fact, $144.7M today is the equivalent of less than $58.5M in 1981! If we celebrate this budget, we are the biggest idiots in history.
Is there no historical sensibility at BlogStage? No critical thinking skills? No ability to use Google? You don't even have to do math -- just plug in the numbers.
The BEDs then take the "mainstream media and the blogosphere" to task for having a sour mood. Apparently, we should all be skipping about this insult.
The essay gets worse, and Mike Daisey has responded effectively to it here. But let me quote a few particularly boneheaded arguments:
- In response to Daisey's statement that "the original intention of the regional theatre movement" was to "to house repertory companies of artists, giving them job security, an honorable wage, and health insurance,"the BED responds trenchantly: "There's no founding document stipulating that all nonprofit theatres must be repertory companies..."
- In response to the question "Is it right for regional theatres to rely on cheap labor when top administrators (i.e., artistic and managing directors) often earn six-figure salaries? Indeed, was the nonprofit business model meant to make people rich?," the BEDs off-handedly reply, "Yes, this is an old squall: No artist or staffer ever feels adequately compensated for his or her work."
- In the next paragraph, they gasp that "Daisey's solution is a wholesale re-evaluation of the regional theatre system." Imagine that! Assessment! Why, it's shocking! But then they relent: "We ask industry leadership organizations, such as Theatre Communications Group, to consider Daisey's criticism seriously; perhaps they could convene a special conference to address whether administrators receive outsized shares of the funding pie, thus denying theatre artists appropriate compensation. Daisey also notes that regional theatres too often import actors from New York. That too should be a prominent part of the agenda."
And then the post concludes with this non sequitir:
- "Yet we also call on everyone to sell the public on giving generously to your local regional theatre. The American theatre community is depending on it."
What these two instances, one in academe and one in the theatre press, symbolize to me is a much larger problem with the theatre: the dismal level of theatrical discourse. When our teachers and our journalists show such a lack of depth, such a dearth of critical thinking, such a superficial understanding of theatre history -- well, is it any wonder that our art form itself is about as deep as a child's plastic swimming pool. Back on September 19th, 2005, I wrote my first post on this blog entitled "Where Are Our Ideas?" The theatrosphere, in my opinion, has raised the level of discussion over the years, and we are now dealing with substantive issues rather than gossip. Perhaps the Rachel Corrie controversy helped make that transition. But overall, the discussion continues to be woefully inadequate, and should be much more critical and much more radical. Yes, BEDs, yes, we need a re-evaluation of the regional theatre system, and every other theatre system in America. We need to look at the whole thing with hard, critical eyes that aren't glazed over with sentiment and fear. Not in order to demonize those who are struggling within these systems, but rather to make the systems better, more equitable, more just, more effective. We need to create a theatre system that deserves to receive more government funding, and funding from everyone else, not that has to beg for it. And we have to do this ourselves, not bring in some TCG panel of so-called "experts."
That is what we are doing in the theatrosphere, and it is a very important function that we must take seriously. To us, it may seem as if we are just typing opinions onto a screen, but the fact is that we are advancing the conversation. The issues we raise are suddenly appearing in the MSM, and so it is important that we argue those issues with both our passion and our reason.
Oh, and while I'm ranting, I'd like to respond to those who think that this discussion was prompted by Mike Daisey, and is the issue du jour. I think Daisey is great, and his essay and his performance makes the subject matter entertaining and enjoyable, and as a result it is getting the attention it deserves. But my second post on this blog, on September 19, 2005, was called "Decentering the Arts," and the next day I wrote "Regionalitis,"and two days later "Regionalitis II." This conversation has been going on for at least three years. And it needs to continue with vigor.