Subtitle – Careful Balance
I bet we all could agree that no matter the production you always want it to be as good as you can possibly make it. If you do not agree, then I would ponder; why are you doing the show?
I also bet we all could agree that Educational Theatre should be successful in educating the students while creating a quality product.
A challenge – presumably the student does not have a lot of experience. If they did, why would they still be the student? How do you balance your effort upon making the show great and giving the students as much of your attention as possible.
High Brow Answer (opinion) – Sometimes you have to make choices that benefit the students more than your personal production goals.
This subject is near and dear to me. For a very long time I have been involved in Educational Theatre, mostly from a guest artist point of view. I did do a few years in a collegiate setting where I taught a Stage Craft class as well as a Lighting Design class. I believe there are very different tactics that you take in those two settings. In the classroom I believe it is all about presenting information in as many different ways as necessary to make sure the student understands and absorbs it. Then you must do practical practice in class to make sure they did understand it and also for simple redundancy. Just like learning dance steps, the word Again, Again, and Again is a great way to learn. So for example, if I were to teach what a leko can do I would first demonstrate it, talk about it and produce a handout that lists it. Then I would have each person come up and manipulate the light themselves. Answer any questions and ask the big question… does anyone have any questions? When they answer no, I then say – OK 10 pt quiz on the handout the next time you come in. Then on the next class session, start with the 10 pt quiz that really shouldn’t take more than five minutes and move on to the next lesson. Fairly structured but has seemed effective.
Now teaching while doing a production is a whole different animal. My belief that teaching by example is the best way. My goal is to make it the best production as possible, but to share my thought process continually while I do it. I also like to treat my student as a junior colleague. I want to engage them so they care about the show as much as I do. The more they want the production to succeed the more successful their educational experience will be. There is another side benefit to making the show as good as it can be, pride. If the student feels great about the work when it is all done, they will want to do that again. There is no better feeling then knowing something you participated in did well and was thought of as a success!
Recently while doing a show at a college we hit final dress rehearsal. All went very smoothly and the cast and the crew, especially the stage manager, did a perfect job on doing what we gave them. Now that it all came together I saw at least forty cues that I wanted to add to make the show even better. I really wanted to do it. I didn’t do it. It would not be fair to the crew and the cast to give them the burden of unrehearsed changes. If it was a show that had previews, then yes. But, in this situation I gave up my personal artistic desire so that they could succeed in the product they were performing.
I also believe that it is incredibly important to educate as many students as possible in your setting. If your department has a student body of fifty or more, do not pick a play that has five characters in it. Sure, it’s a great play, but did you really serve your department as a whole? Practical production education is essential for every student in that department.
So I guess my soap box here is… when doing Educational Theatre don’t get lost on the fact that while you are doing a production, you also have the goal of educating the students along the way. If you are there solely for you and the show, you should be doing shows in a different setting.