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More Drama as a Teaching Tool + some other ideas


From: Jeremy Whelan (jeremy_whelan_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Mar 25 2003 - 05:54:39 PST

Hi Judy,
Sure, put them on your page, many of the techniques are on my web page, but as I am switching ISP's right now, it will be down for a few days. Don't forget the costumes with the French Cafe idea, that is a real selling point. It can be as simple as a scarf, a hat, a cane, etc., but any attempt at costume adds a level of excitement/fun that should not be missed. It also adds on the educational level too in as much as a style of dress in any period is reflected in/influenced by the art of that period.

BTW I have been wanting to bring this up anyhow and may do it as a separate post, but I tell all my acting/directing students that the arts are all related in a very dynamic way, and that if they were to take a dance class or a painting class, etc., they would be better actors. I think it very important that this lesson be taught. As part of one class I will ask them all to bring in a piece of art. It can be a postcard from a museum store, something they did themselves, or any work of visual art from any source. We will sit in a big circle, usually on the floor, and each actor will present the work that they brought in to the group, and going into detail, describe why they like/love it.

Another class will have them bringing in a piece of music that thrills them. That can be broken into sections, with one class asking them to bring in a classical piece and on another occasion anything from the last 100 years. Some have never given classical a real listen and seeing the passion in a classmate for it, brings it home to many of them.  In the modern section, many will give swing a listen for the first time or jazz. In another class, I'll pair them up and ask them to learn a dance of the period and demonstrate it to the class. A short essay from a writer of the period might be featured in another class. There are time constraints so we may just listen to one movement of a symphony etc.

The object is to make them complete artist, not just "actors/directors." All art is dramatic in some way. I think that teaching painters for instance to have grater access to the dramatic in them prevents the simple technical proficiency that certain types of training create. In other words I think that drama as a teaching tool is highly under rated. Most of my techniques are naturals for the classroom in other disciplines. BTW to Kris, Viola Spolin is a Goddess, her picture is on my wall and I refer to her as my creative mom. I spent years studying her work and had the pleasure to meet her on a few occasions. A truly great lady/person of the theatre and a profound student of life. During a residency at SUNY, the chair of the dept. remarked that I had found the bridge between Spolin and scripted material, which I consider one of the best compliments
I've ever gotten. Mark Twain said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

There is a much deeper element that comes into play in the arts today, and as it must follow, in life in general.  It relates to the rapidly changing world we live in and the society that is evolving out of those radical changes. Way too much to go into at the moment, but I will say that the approach to acting/directing I created over the last forty years is very much in tune with it. It has a paradigm that both paralleled and was later, when I discovered it, much influenced by the Learning Styles movement in general education.  I am the first and as far as I know, beyond those teaching my work, the only one to bring these advances into the acting/directing field of study. BTW, Mosaic Acting is growing in popularity and being used with great success from the middle school level up to the Doctoral level, and while I'm at it, by some leading theatrical companies around the world.  My last two acting books have chapters on Learning Styles and Charter Schools respectively. I don't think the world has ever seen anything like that before. 

My system, Mosaic Acting, is an empathy based system, ensemble by the very nature of its mechanics and radically different from the star system inherent in almost all other approaches to the art form.  Spolin being the only notable, and to me, the sole exception to that statement. Ninety-Eight percent of the others are Stanislavski based derivatives, i.e., cognitive.  It seems obvious to me that the cognitive revolution is over and the tone of the time is emotions based. There are many confirmations of that in all walks of life that go way beyond the reality craze on TV, but again I will store that discussion for another time. If anybody wants to pick up on it, it might be fun to run with it as a thread.

A clue to the validity of what I'm saying can be found by a simple web search using the key words, Emotions Research.  The Dali Lama visited the recently created Science of Emotions dept. at the U. of Michigan a few months ago. Some of you may remember Danial Goleman's book, "Emotional Intelligence" from a few years ago. It spent almost two years on the NY Times best seller list. Some may be familiar with Dr. Joseph Le Deux's book, "The Emotional Brain." Just a few of the rash of books and articles on the subject pouring into the market place. Both the educational and private sector are mad for emotions studies now and the trend is expanding exponentially. In regard to that, my new book, Mosaic Acting, has a Dictionary of the Emotions, with 900 emotions defined, and a Thesaurus of the Emotions which has an 86 page workbook for students. I started teaching emotions to actors around 1984. I created the Dictionary and Thesaurus of the emotions during 1995-96 and have been refining them ever since. I first started teaching emotions to actors in 1984.  After my first residency, a professor at BYU, Idaho, created a core class based in large part on the work I call Emotionology. His class is titled, Emotions and Actors. This is a very big subject, and I firmly believe vital to all aspects of contemporary education.

This is fun and might be a great arts project for some of your classes. On my latest residency at BYU I was asked along with my regular teaching acting/directing classes, to direct the early rehearsals of "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere.  I broke the cast into teams to research different aspects of the period, 17th century, which is something I'm sure you all know. Anyhow, one team did medicine, another manners etc. The neatest thing to my mind was that all the ladies in Louie's court had fans, and depending how they used them they were sending a very distinct message. For instance, if a lady of the court were to draw her fan down her cheek she was saying to the gentleman she was talking to, "Kiss me."  If she were to snap it shut it meant, "Get away from me, immediately." It's been four months so my examples my not be spot on, but there was a whole "Language of the Fan," which I gave time for the actresses to learn. A fan making assignment might come out of a planned improvisation on " A Night at Court" driven by the fun of learning that language. Also, to hearken back to my earlier example, while there wasn't any dancing in the show, I enlisted the help of the dance dept. to teach my actors some of the dances of the day. I know drama isn't what you do, but I hope you find a way to enjoy these ideas.

It is four am and I l0ve to ramble at this time of day, but I have to get back to the new book, which is due to go to press soon. BTW, it's my fifth since 1900. One of them is in Spanish if that is your classroom environment. I'm looking for someone now to do the new book in Spanish as the other is from 1994. Some of the most important elements of Mosaic Acting are presented in that book, "Instant Acting" or "Actor Al Instante" as it is known in Spanish, however Emotionology and many other aspects of the system have greatly evolved since then. I'm rambling again, so really this time.

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