Fears at the EdTA Conference

By Jessica Harms posted 07-31-2014 10:55

I went into school on Monday to complete our theater inventory and set up our repertory light plot for the school year.  I was so tired from conference and having terrible flight delays, but of course, my students still have the crazy energy of teenagers.  They all had to know every detail of conference and what I learned.  But where do you begin?  The level of learning can't be quantified or tested...it has to be experienced.  

This was so true for my favorite masterclass on viewpoints.  Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what viewpoints was before I stepped into that room.  Then I found out other people in the room knew what it was, and I felt that dreaded feeling of "I'm going to be the silly person in the room who has no idea what they are doing and will make a fool of myself in front of all the other theater teachers!"

Before self-consciousness could completely overwhelm me, we started with exercises to put us in the moment.  Someone in the circle began with the phrase, "I am...," and finished it.  Then it would go to the next person in the circle who would also finish the statement, responding to what the person before you said and without pre-planning what you were going to say.  Our second time around the circle we had the phrase "I hope..." One of the guest high school students finished the statement "I hope to fail."  Boom. Immediate tunnel-vision on the high school junior in the room wise beyond her years.  Exuding the kind of energy, bravery, and fearlessness we try to espouse in our students every day.  Oh, the tables had been flipped on me!  Here I am, a somewhat seasoned teacher falling trap to the same feelings I fight in my classroom.  How could I have been so...well, I don't know what the appropriate adjective is, but stupid certainly comes to mind.

Letting go of those fears and accepting failure allowed that master class to become almost a spiritual experience for me as we executed the exercises, really trying to live in levels of soft focus.  For those of you who aren't familiar with viewpoints, it focuses on movement and gesture, and creating a vocabulary to talk about it.  This year, for our festival one act, we're going to devise our own silent adaptation of "Treasure Island."  In part, because this allows me to cast as many students as I want in a show restricted to 40-minutes, but because it will force us to tell the story physically.  Taking a workshop that focuses on physicality was the perfect fit for my directing tool box.  

While I learned tons of stuff for my directing tool box, this is the answer I first gave my students when they asked me what I learned:

"I was reminded what it's like to be you.  To be in a situation where you have no idea what you are doing, terrified you'll make a fool of yourself, and having to put those fears aside to be successful." 

Talking about my fears is a humanizing experience for all of us, and it allows me to develop such trust and understanding with my students.  Some of my favorite moments in teaching theater are when my students no longer see me as a teacher, but as a person.  A person who feels just as strongly as they do, and who secretly fears failing at everything, including teaching!  

This is what I love about theater.  Being able to look at our fears head on, and overcome them together.  Theater taught me that it's okay to fail, and how to go on in the face of fear or failure.  I believe I am where I am today because I learned to take the risk of failure and put my fears aside.  What has theater taught you?