Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ideas gone wrong

Today was "Job Alike" day, which means that all teachers in my district with the same subject areas all meet together instead of just meeting with your own school. It's the only time of the year that I get to see the high school theatre teachers, and one of a handful of times I get to see the other middle school theatre teachers, so it's always something to look forward to.

The head of theatre for the district brought up my idea from last year about starting a non-competitive theatre festival. We had two issues preventing us from doing it. One was the lack of host venue: we simply couldn't find anyone to give us their theatre for a weekend. But it was also a scheduling problem. It's hard enough for each of us to coordinate a show schedule on our home campuses without interfering with music and athletic events; trying to coordinate with other campuses was logistically impossible.

But today, someone said, "Well, what if it wasn't full shows that we're trying to rehearse at the same time? If it's just monologues and scenes? Then we can work on them in class and fit the preparation into almost any schedule."

I tried to butt in and say that monologue and scene showcases are dumb, and boring, and aren't theatre. I mean, would the Steppenwolf or Guthrie add a monologue showcase for local actors into their season? No, because it's self-serving and masturbatory, and it's just not theatre. But I couldn't get a word in because someone else said, "Yeah, and instead of trying to get a theatre space, we can just do it in classrooms at one of the schools."

The bad advice just kept coming. "And the high school theatre teachers could judge them!" "And assign each one a grade, like at a choir UIL contest!" "Yeah, each kid can do their piece, and get a rating!"

So instead of doing actual theatre, we'll have dozens of kids desperately trying to disconnect with others, working alone, not seeing all the other performers, and getting judged. It's like a speech tournament, but even worse. At least a speech tournament has fun and silly events like TV Commercial and Pantomime, and you get a trophy for your trouble. This is beyond pointless.

The middle school teachers are getting together with the head of theatre in two weeks to discuss logistics for setting this up. I'm of two minds. I could say, "This is the opposite of working together to achieve a creative goal, which makes it the opposite of theatre. It's isolated, judgmental, and pointless, and I'm not going to devote a second of class time to train kids for something so worthless."

Or, I could say, "You want to do it when? Oh, we've got a meet-the-teacher thing that night. The next week? That's a choir concert, my kids will be busy. The week after? I'm going out of town, I'm sorry. The next month? That's the only time we can have auditions for our spring show, and we'll be busy all year after that."

So should I play this aggressive or passive?

4 Comments:

At 11:32 PM, Blogger educat said...

Be. Agressive. Be be agressive.

If you ever want them to get your point, they will not if you don't vote with your feet (or your students, whatever).

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger Walker said...

I agree. I think you need to nip this in the bud.

And if they continue to go through with it, you and your students should have "other commitments" from now til June.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Be honest with them. If it's not non-competitive, it's not good for your kids and you won't be involved.

I do have to argue with the monologues and scenes thing though - scenes are great practice in working together to create something that is a small chunk of life. If done carefully, they are just as entertaining and purposeful as a full length show. Monologues are good practice in creating and portraying a character, memorization, and other techniques they need to have down pat. It's not a bad thing for them to leave your program with a few audition pieces under their belts, either.

That being said, I never take monologue pieces to festivals because I think we all learn more in groups.

And I think that if you're doing scenes, it's best to perform with kids from other schools, otherwise it's really just a competition and there's no reason to go anywhere other than your own classroom to have them seen.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Meg said...

It's astonishing how quickly these things can go off the rails.

I think performing in a classroom can work in your favor--if the event can shift to focus on the actor/audience relationship. But I agree with everyone else--make your voice heard as to why you'd like to make the focus of the event a collaborative sharing between kids--the "Job Alike" is a perfect analogy: kids don't often get to see kids at other schools who do what they do, and everyone can learn from someone else's approach. You didn't vote on the "superior teacher" at the meeting, did you?

People go along with competitions either because of the much-needed ego boost of winning prizes, or because no one is speaking up for an alternative in a reasoned, impassioned way. It's a hard sell to argue to people who have an unmet emotional need for recognition and reward. But I don't believe that any actual artist thinks theater competitions are a good idea on a philosophical level.

You might agree to participate on the condition that your kids are not given ratings because you are trying to teach them that art is about collaboration and communication and not competition. There was a competition in North Carolina where you could participate but opt out of scoring/medals, so at least there's precedent. It sounds like it's going to take a lot of work to get them to shift out of this one-dimensional thinking mode they're stuck in. Ultimately, only you know whether you've got the time and energy for a campaign to change their hearts and minds.

Keep fighting the good fight, and best of luck to you, however this unfolds. In the end, you'll do what's right for your kids and what's right for you.

 

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