My Journey

Faith and the Art of Actor Training

Current projects, my journey, my game!

Patience is a virtue...

One of the many learning lessons, gifts, of teaching secondary and middle school is the opportunity to practice patience. During a course of a day I will be triggered to raise my voice more often than I care to experience, or care to admit. The cause of my desire to yell and the effect of feeling powerless is a dance taking president over what could be seen as an amazing job.  I understand children want to have fun and they are not behaving badly but behaving authentically. A flare up of anger can erupt after a classroom management technique fails or I’ve repeated myself one too many times….which means I am more frustrated with myself than the students.  I can hear teachers yelling out of exasperation or desperation daily.  Yelling has zero benefit in the long run.  So, why do we do it?  Frustration. Was I yelled at by my teachers? Yes. I am sure it inhibited my voice and caused shame, however I can’t speak to a specific experience nor do I hold any of my past teachers in contempt.  I have forgiven all the good ones and learned more from the bad ones as I hope my students will do the same.

What do I remember from elementary and middle school? I remember middle school being a lonely time for me.  I remember making friends in elementary school and competing for their attention.  I bring those two thoughts with me to school every day.  I also remember the song "Have you seen the ghost of John" from Ms. Roger's music class in second grade.  I do not remember her ever yelling.  I also remember taking a nap on my friend Adam’s stomach and being told that laying my head on a boys tummy was not considered appropriate.  What do I remember from Middle School?  I remember Mrs. Lawson’s speech class.  It was an open opportunity to make students laugh.  I remember feeling  unattractive because my peers had started puberty and my playmates were beginning to date and I was not.  So to be the catalyst to a positive experience in school is the goal and yet, I fail weekly. I am not beating myself up, I am stating the obvious.  I still feel more like a behavior manager than a Drama Teacher.  My graduate teachers would say, “it’s not about your feelings it’s about the other person’s feelings.”  I am still negotiating opinions about classroom management and assessments, but the more I learn about both my day flows better. I am trying to use the skills provided to me, colleagues wisdom and their advice to learn, but it is a challenge. I wonder if I am making the challenge into a bad thing.  What else would I want from a job or vocation?  For it to be easy?  Does the challenge outweigh the rewards?  It is too early to tell, there are rewards and there are lots of challenges.  I can not see the forest through the trees.  I can only make out a few colors. 

I am talking with other drama teachers and appreciate the community support. I had a couple of auditions last week and when I came back to the classroom students were openly interested in my experience and curious about the acting profession. Continuing my professional experience is a successful action.  Professional Development days included or allowed in the sick/personal day package might make the teaching artist feel confident and encourage transparency about asking for time off.  The school is supportive about my work as an actor and director, however, I have skipped a lot of auditions because the audition slot does not fit in with the school's schedule. Regardless I can bring my professional experience into the room at any time. We are going to bring the students outside the classroom more as well.  We have a few field trips lined up for this and next trimester.  I would hate to be the only resource integrating Dramatics and theatre for these kids.  They could possibly hate or love the subject based on their feelings towards me and I desire them to learn more from this branch of the humanities outside the realm of my exercises or personality.

At the end of the school day, 2:50pm, I sit and sometimes think, "I feel like a babysitter, and not a drama teacher." But I also feel the pain of change as an instrument of tremendous value as I continue to show up and do what I am doing.  The culture and atmosphere at the school is supportive.  The students are young, endearing, and need guidance.  If it was an easy job then anybody could do it.  If we do it well, we can be a positive influence in how students learn. That is a pretty high calling.  Moving forward if I have to "babysit" with these young students because they are crying out for attention, can I see this as a place where my attention is needed most? Can I notice where their attention flows is a clear indicator where their energy goes?  What I do in that moment is the solution.    





Drama and Arts Integration

Every day is a mixture of challenge and reward.  My biggest challenge at AACA is navigating relationships with both teachers and students. I am always amazed when words from my mouth hole make people feel or think the exact opposite of my meaning.  Kindness still reigns supreme as a necessary ingredient to smooth out rough patches with peeps and as a result all is well today.  I did not feel as such on Friday. I am still making adjustments from working with college actors to integrating drama for elementary and middle school children.  My professor in graduate school, Hugh O'Gorman would say, "Frustration is the cue to get creative."  I am definitely finding a daily practice of getting creative. There is joy in learning.  I've enjoyed making abstract ideas concrete through exercises for 1st and 2nd grade, like breaking down and understanding what kind of action they are taking when they do an Act of Contrition, or investigating the relaxing power of the spine through movement work, or investigating status through Augusto Boal's chair exercise.  The 5th grade will share an artistic response to an important figure in their life.  The 6th grade is researching games, the importance of game playing in the early Mesopotamian Empire, and what similarities game playing hold in the organization of civilizations today.  The 7th grade is focusing on the rise of the Nazi party through theatrics and propaganda.  The 8th grade is working on marrying the top 5 events of their life through the lens of an artistic innovator.  I am finding group projects useful for middle school students but so are singular skill building tasks and mindful practices of awareness through thoughts, feelings, and wishes. I want 8th grade students to learn through discovery and not through compliance. How will I do that? By helping those who come into the room shouting to God when they actually should be praying.  My goal is to meet them where they are at developmentally and strive to build some important social and emotional skills. I want to build relationships with 7th graders.  How will I do that?  Get to know them! I want to empower 5th and 6th graders to stay open and kind.  How will I do that? By continuing to see them very clearly and listen to them.  This week I have been asking a lot of questions, and not as a Socratic means of manipulating an answer but because I am interested in what they like, don't like, and how they process information.  I'll continue to think of their needs and be curious.  I'll strive to learn if discouraged.  The goal is to help these students think like and artist, and learn through that lens. I remember middle school as a scary time.  Mr. Rasmussen and Mrs. Lawson stick out for being supportive and nurturing my desire to be an actor.  I remember them both very distinctly and fondly.  I've come a long way since the days of 1985-1987, and so will these students. The universe is definitely smarter than me....I make plans, and my God laughs and says, "David your plan is shit!"  Onward....Oh and I'm directing Macbeth for adults...but more on that later...    

Drama is seeing, Drama is meaning....

I am back to working in secondary school as the need for an education artist came through this summer with the specific mission to help students prek-8th think like an artist.  This opportunity beat out part time adjunct work. The idea of creating curriculum that makes students think like an artist excites me.  This past week was our first week. So far I've met the pre-school students and worked with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. I have been mindful of my past work with college students and current acting teaching with young professionals as to what works with older humans must work with younger humans.   The Stanislavsky system of acting training in two parts: work on self and work on role seems to align with a lot of current SEL learning techniques, as well as his wonderful tool that leverages the imagination, "What if..."  I am curious how Drama can be of service to the school, the student's learning, and to myself and other teachers. I've been met by the students and teachers with both enthusiasm and a bit of apprehension or dread.  The school's principal Casimer Badynee wants all of us, teachers and students, to be learning.  The process of learning can be frustrating and I've learned that frustration is the cue to get creative.  I was frustrated a few times last week with meetings, with ideas not being supported, and with myself.  I have been grateful to be reminded that perspective can go a long way and I have the power to change my perspective.  So do students. Am I sad that this is the end of summer, or is this an opportunity to be of service? Am I sad that I am not teaching in a University or is this amazing to have a job that supports my vocation?  Theatre is scary and acting classes are messy.  Classroom management is a huge component for elementary and middle school classrooms.  Kids have lots of energy that can be personally challenging to contain.  This week I've seen the first second and third grade completely go bonkers because.....I gave them permission to do so.  Their energy is boundless.  As now I see it, the goal for me is to make our time meaningful together.  I plan on using lots of Visual Aides, Music, and Film Clips to engage the students attention.  I then wish to focus on creating dialogue based on what they think, feel, and want.  When finishing up an exercises last Friday, I asked the students to comment on one of the three: what they thought, they felt, or they wished about an exercise.  It came time for young Conner to speak towards the end of the circle and his behavior got quiet and his voice became small and he said, "Pass" to which I replied, "Ah, I hear you, you WISH to pass...."  He realized he responded on one of the three components and his eyes lite up. If it wasn't for this new position I don't think I would have been aware that he was acting on his wishes.  I might have seen a lack of participation instead of realizing he did.  If I keep working to not only engage the students but to get them to become aware of themselves and others I have faith I will be in for some beneficial learning on how Drama can help students learn.  How I do that is what I'll continue to reflect and write on.   I have a feeling it might get a little messy.  Drama is about finding meaning in the mess.  The goal is to find meaning in our humanity.