Back to schoolWith school starting up again, I've been thinking a lot about issues in teaching and learning. My thoughts keep returning to Dana Dusbiber, the high school teacher from Sacramento who suggested back in June that we should remove Shakespeare from the English curriculum. Her opinion, published in the Washington Post, naturally riled the Shakespeare-loving community, which circled its wagons in defense of the Bard. Sadly, many of the responses focused on attacking Dusbiber personally, calling her (among other things) ignorant, illiterate, and racist. I don't know Dusbiber or her students, but what I see in her opinion isn't an ignorant, illiterate racist but a veteran teacher searching for the best ways to educate her students. She shows passion for her work and for the well-being of her students. She is, however, wrong.
Muddy ReflectionIn my last post, I (kind of) reviewed the latest film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Carlo Carlei. Since then, the film—and the play on which it is based—has been haunting me. I simply can't pull my mind away from Romeo and Juliet for long. I awoke this morning, in fact, with the faint memory of performing in and/or directing a production in my dreams. I am sad to report that upon further review, the call on the field stands: the Carlei/Fellowes Romeo and Juliet remains an exercise in condescension. Usually, if I'm still pondering a work long after seeing it, it means it has either profoundly impacted my life or inspired me to reconsider my initial reaction. Part of me was hoping time would help me see more redeeming qualities in the film, but if that's to be the case, one week has not been long enough. I have, however, been ruminating on the film's usefulness. In doing so, I have come to the tentative conclusion that I am glad the film was made.
Full DisclosureI adore Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Like so many others, I first read it as a high school freshman. It was my first exposure to Shakespeare (the first I remember, anyway) and reading it, unbeknownst to me at the time, would set me on my professional journey. I think I liked Shakespeare back then because that's what I was supposed to like. It was as though I earned smart, artsy girl street cred by being a Shakespeare fan. The words were so pretty, and I didn't find them nearly as difficult as I was led to believe I would, so I felt pretty good about myself. As time and my Shakespearean education went on, I grew to appreciate the plays for what they are instead of how they make me look. I'm no longer a blind-faith fangirl. With the help of some excellent professors and performance opportunities, I have learned to value the text* for what it says about the characters, their motivations, their world, their lives.
Is the Audience Alive?At the beginning of the semester, I asked my Shakespeare on Film students if theatre is a dying art. Overwhelmingly, they argued it is not. These aren't biased theatre students. These are students, traditional and nontraditional, from fields such as nursing and business who are taking the course to fulfill their arts requirement. But they see that theatre's pulse, while occasionally thready, shows signs of continued life. Despite their insistence that theatre's still alive, these same students admitted they rarely, if ever, attend theatrical events. They blamed accessibility issues. They complained about the high costs of theatre tickets (they're not wrong—I often miss performances I would otherwise see because the ticket prices are out of my range). They complained about local theatre companies' lack of marketing; they easily know when movies are released, but they don't know where to begin looking for locally-produced plays. Most of all, though, they complained about the inconvenience. Who, after all, would bother going out to a theatre when they can simply "click a few buttons on their remotes" from the "comfort of [their] own home"?
What am I doing?I've been a teacher for years. I started peer tutoring in high school, majored in Secondary Education in undergrad, earned my MLitt concentration in teaching, and have been teaching in one way or another since graduation. Heck, even my directing style tends to fall on the teaching side of the theatre process; I'm generally more concerned with coaching the actors than I am with the technical/visual elements (no amount of "pretty" can make up for unclear, uninspired performances). But in all my experience, and through all my training, I don't think I've ever met anyone who could come up with a satisfactory definition of what a teacher's job is. We're supposed to transmit knowledge—but knowledge of what (not to mention how)?