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Theater in Theater - Qualified Perceptions
Theater in Theater
Last week harrock and I saw Circle Mirror Transformation at the Huntington. Their summary: "When the four students in Marty's creative drama class experiment with harmless theatre games, hearts are quietly torn apart and tiny wars of epic proportions are waged and won." Now, I went in expecting something maybe like No Child - teacher manages to connect with students uninterested in drama, and some of them they learn something about themselves / about life, and maybe she does too. But... I came away with the distinct feeling that Marty was a terrible teacher, and it was a completely useless class, at least, for the students it was intended for, and that ends up skewing my impression of the whole play. I sympathize completely with Lauren, who asks "Are we ever going to do any real acting?" and the answer she gets ("this is real acting") is completely unhelpful to her dilemma, or to me as a watcher.

I find that I could go on at length about this after arguing with justom (but he hasn't seen the play, and I suspect feels morally obliged to defend Acting Teachers, even fictional ones), but maybe I'm trying to prove the obvious ("Here, let me explain in great detail why Iago was a bad guy..."). But maybe I just saw it wrong, because I'm not an Actor, and don't properly appreciate the true transformative potential of learning to count to ten together.

So, for people who saw the play, or are otherwise familiar with it - am I supposed to think the class was worthwhile, not counting the plot that happens outside of the exercises? (More particularly, is the class supposed to look worthwhile for the students who take it).

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4 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: November 16th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know what we were supposed to think (though my guess is, that this was not a good class per se and yet people got personal growth out of it). But I had the same reaction you did: ugh, this is the stupid version of the theatre class in which we do goofy exercises. That is, I think of theatre classes as involving goofy exercises, but this was the stupid version rather than the cool useful version. And I don't think that my reaction was totally incongruent with the author's intent. I think she was totally giving cues that said Marty's actually a pretty lousy teacher in most ways (and then giving us a few redeeming moments coming from that baseline).

And yeah, I had trouble getting past that impression (which I think to author intended) to really believe in the transformations. On the other hand, I was mostly able to buy into the dynamic that the characters had enough warmheartedness among them, despite their flaws, to end up making an experience for each other that could create some fond memories.

But I also found it a barrier to my engagement, that I knew something about the experience they were portraying -- not in an inaccurate way, but in a wince-worthy this-is-how-to-do-it-badly sort of way. (I was sort of surprised, at the end of the play, to find that my mom and fredrickegerman both thought the play was a lot better than I did. I didn't hate it, but was kindly-lukewarm about it; they were both much more positive.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 16th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can believe in the bonding and the character interactions, not from the counting-to-ten or "pretend to be my baseball glove" bits, but from what I have to assume is a large amount of offstage conversation that lets them exposit each other's bios - building empathy without mimicry, even though the exercise might have ostensibly been about mimicry?
From: desireearmfeldt Date: November 16th, 2010 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would say the interview exercise was not simply designed to train mimicry; it seems like it's about character study & portrayal, and that does involve empathy even when it's not about a real person; and it was probably also intended to get them to open up to each other, on the theory that acting wants you to be more emotionally open and draw on your own feelings and experiences; and it was probably about learning about worldviews and experiences not your own.

That could potentially be a very useful and powerful exercise, though it's risky and one of the things that made Marty a bad teacher was she was trying to get people to open up and use their real emotions and probe their real histories, but she wasn't being very emotional-security-conscious about it -- and indeed, she couldn't deal with her own baggage and got seriously bit by her poking at things that maybe shouldn't have been poked. (Though one might argue it was good for her in the end.) She was mooshing theatre and therapy together, but not using any of the ethics or safeguards of therapy, and that's irresponsible teaching.

Counting-to-ten I can argue for having some value -- being in tune with the other people on stage with you (while not always looking at them) is valuable and tricky. Pretend-to-be-my-baseball-glove was a perversion of something that could possibly have been a useful exercise (some sort of drawing-on-real-memory/emotion to express something). But in neither case did Marty give any idea, before or after, about what the point of the exercise was supposed to be -- what people were meant to be learning.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 17th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I don't necessarily assume all the exercises were themselves junk, but the whole thing felt to me like even for the potentially useful exercises, they were given no clue how or why you might want to develop that skill, or any opportunity to apply it to something relevant (like, for example, being on stage with someone you're not looking at). And the non-actors didn't seem to be figuring the application out on their own, either, which might have made it more forgivable.

My best analogy was that it would be like if I didn't know how to cook and I signed up for a summer cooking class thinking "Hey, maybe I'll learn how to make a cake", but then I spent the entire time practicing knife-sharpening and looking at slides about protein coagulation. They're not necessarily bad lessons to learn, but if I signed up for a cooking class and that was all I got, I would not feel at the end that I had become a better cook.
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