Open Forum

Topic: competitve language

1.  competitve language

Posted 11 days ago
So- this may be a bit of "letter to the editor", but here goes.

I was reading an article posted on the Thespian Fesitval FacebookPage written by the Advocate- I will try to find a link to the article.

The way it was written, I think, is fundamentally counterintuitive to what Thespian Festival is/should be.  The language of the article was filled with phrases like "winning", "beating out", "sweeping the even".  Language that is competitive by it's very nature.

What I love about Thespian Festival's model is that there is no "winner", but rather that is a ranking for the overall quality of a students work/performance.  There is no limit to the amount of "superiors" that can be acknowledged in any given room or festival.  The work that a student brings to a festival stands on its own merit- not to be compared to the ability of any other student who is presenting work.

I work really hard changing the way my students think about their work- artistic endeavors are (and should be) evaluated on effectiveness.  Does the work we do effectively tell the story of the play?  That is what is important, not "my design is better than their design".

We work in a collaborative field- our work is collaborative.  When we start making it about competition- we lose sight of the work being effective and collaborative.  We also lose the ability to celebrate the talents of the other students presenting work.  The competitive instinct can also be crippling to those students who do not have access to the same resources.  Not all schools or students have access to teachers with the same skill sets or monetary resources- and competition can make those students feel like their work is inadequate and give them a "why bother" attitude.  If we keep in mind the notions of effectiveness and collaboration we can stay focused on our mission: the education of young artists.  We can better train them to be able to give and receive constructive criticism.  And, it would only strengthen the festivals' abilities to celebrate the work of young artists.

Ok- I'm done- I'll get off my soap box.


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Scott Schoonover
Technical Director
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis MO
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2.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
BRAVO! We all need to be careful not to let "winning" drive the art of theater. Collaboration is key to the most outstanding work on the stage well beyond the individual talent placed upon it.

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Jill Campbell
Pine Grove Mills PA
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3.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
And often times, I have talked with employers who would rather work with people who are good at taking direction, hard working, and easy to work with as opposed to the most talented person who is really difficult to work with.  A little humility goes a long way.


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Scott Schoonover
Technical Director
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis MO
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4.  RE: competitve language

Posted 8 days ago
So, I'm going to offer an opposing view here.  I like competition and really don't like the "festival" format.  I prefer the days when we had rankings, not simply ratings.  First, let's face it; the world we live in is competitive.  You have to be the best to rise to the top.  Imagine if the Tony's or Oscars handed out "Superiors" to 10 different actors instead of a trophy to just one.  In a way, it devalues the work and in my opinion, as a result of being so careful to treat everyone equally, we have raised a generation of children that feel entitled and EXPECT to get a trophy, regardless of their effort or work.  In addition, auditions ARE competitive.  I have several former students that are now working as professional actors and they will tell you that an audition is more than just finding the right person for the role.  In the real world, there might be 100 actors that could fit that role and you have to do something to stand apart from the other 99 blondes that are 5 ft. 6 and a size 2.  How you stand out, how you compete for the job, can make the difference of working in your field or not.

Second, in my experience, "festival" judges don't give constructive criticism to help a student grow.  They are too afraid of hurting their feelings, so they will just mark Excellent or Superior and say "good job snowflake!"  Regardless of what is written on a ballot, students view showcase as "the winners."  I feel that the process for choosing showcase performances is much more political in a rating system.  In a ranking system, tabulation of scores is completely objective because it is just counting numbers, whereas choosing students to perform at a showcase is really decided by a small handful of people in the tabulation room. If we really want to be fair, celebrate talent, and showcase student work, then why not just pick names randomly from a hat for showcase?  Posting student names and categories for showcase is the same as giving rankings, we just don't call it that.  A ranking system is a little more honest I think.

Also, I don't believe that giving rankings or being competitive undercuts that value of the art at all.  Just because "Avenue Q" beat out "Wicked" for the Tony for Best New Musical, doesn't mean that "Wicked" is not a "superior" musical. In fact, Wicked is only second to "Lion King" as the top grossing musical of all time. We all know that art is subjective anyway, so even with guidelines for ratings, one person's idea of superior or excellent is still subjective.  There is no way to get around that.  Although many regard Pollack as a "superior" artist, others may look at his work and think its crap, but regardless of anyone's opinion of the work, he is indeed a celebrated artist.

Lastly, I think competition is healthy.  It gives one drive and motivation to work harder, learn more, rehearse it again, etc.  We are only allowed one entry per IE at our state conference, so how do I choose the one student that gets to do monologues when I have 10 that really want to do it?  It has to be competitive.  All students that want to do an IE at festival has to sign up, then they each prepare their work without my help, so I can be fair to everyone.  They perform in front of drama club at a club meeting and the club members vote for their favorite.  I will then work with that student one-on-one to help them prepare.  ALL of my students perform all of their prepared work in an evening showcase at the end of each semester, so their work is seen, appreciated and celebrated by friends and family.  But when they have to compete to get the one spot that will go to festival, they work harder, they learn that they don't always get the part, that choosing the material is just as important as performance choices, they learn to be gracious and support their friend that got chosen, and so much more.

Soapbox done.  :)


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Jeana Whitaker
Theatre Director
Mesa AZ
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5.  RE: competitve language

Posted 7 days ago
One thing I often tell students is that the difference between sports and theatre is that when my high school football team plays our neighbor school's football team, someone has to win and someone has to lose.
When I do a play, my success has nothing to do with the other school's success. We can (and do) root for each other.
Theatre is not a sport.






6.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
Scott - I am in total agreement with you and happy to share your soapbox.

"We work in a collaborative field- our work is collaborative. When we start making it about competition- we lose sight of the work being effective and collaborative."

This is is a critical point. Casting is not a matter of finding the best individual actors but of putting together the best cast for a particular production, not the best designers, but the best design team.

Lets not lose sight of the developmental and educational value we offer.

-Jerf

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John (Jerf) Friedenberg
Director Of Theatre
Wake Forest University Dept of Theatre & Dance
Winston-salem NC
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7.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago

This. 1000 times this.  Thank you.



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Sergio Iriarte
Thespian Troupe 2813 Director
Hudson High School
Hudson, Oh
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8.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
I'd scrub myself with the soap in that soap box anytime!
Well played!

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[William] [Myatt] [Director of Theatre]

[Pleasant Valley High School]

[myattw@pleasval.k12.ia.us][563-332-5151][Bettendorf][IA][USA]
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9.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
I totally agree with you, Scott! Thank you for your editorial.

There was a time that Thespian festivals were showcases of student work.  It was refreshing and generated the kind of envirnment which you describe.  It encouraged collaboration and growth.  Then....enter IEs.  Some states resisted this new event for the same reasons which you cite.  I was among the resisters.  In my mind, the best part of Thespian festivals was the lack of competition.  Now everything is competed.  Some people will say that an audition is a competition, and I agree, but the festival is a celebration of theatre and I maintain that it would be a healthier environment for students and teachers if there was a lot less focus on the competitions.

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Lana Hagan retired
Department of Theatre/Dance
Southern Illinois Univ. Edwardsville/retired
Clayton MO
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10.  RE: competitve language

Posted 10 days ago
I don't have any issues with IE's when they are framed more as an assessment of a student's ability.  In fact, I think IE's provide a great opportunity for a student to get a different point of view about his/her/their work.  In many cases, the students only get to hear from their teacher, and having multiple perspectives is great.  This is particularly valuable on the tech side, as most theater programs don't have access to professional designers or specifically trained educators.  I have always seen the IE as basically a good portfolio review opportunity.

Once again, where I do have a problem is when we as teachers and mentors start framing them as a "competition".  There are no winners of superior ratings, there are students who have achieved that level of work.

As far as audtioning/casting- I don't really see that as a competition either.  Once again, the director is looking for the best people to tell the story he/she wants.  It might feel like a competitve event- but there are once again not really winners.

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Scott Schoonover
Technical Director
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis MO
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11.  RE: competitve language

Posted 9 days ago
I will begin by saying that I 100% agree with you. However for people that are not part of our theatre world they don't understand. Especially administrators. I often find myself having to use "competitive" language to explain our accolades to my administration and other teachers. They are use to sports teams. For instance we were chosen as the chapter select for Louisiana this year, and to explain it my administration I said "chapter select is to Thespian festival as State Title is to basketball." Our school won almost every state title in sports this year, and this is how they think. Until our country puts more of an emphasis on arts education I'm afraid we will always have to use these analogies and competitive language.

I will admit when I read the article (which is from my state) I cringed a bit at the language. However I can very easily see myself trying to explain our world and using that same language. It definitely makes a better story for the PR person to pitch to the paper. Unfortunately that's the reality of media, and schools wanting coverage. I'm happy that attention was brought to our state festival and ITF. Hopefully someone interested in high school theater read it and looked up what ITS is all about.

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Kristi Jacobs-Stanley
New Orleans LA
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12.  RE: competitve language

Posted 8 days ago
HI!  The article in question was referring to my middle schoolers and frankly it doesnt matter what you want it to be, the IE is a competetive event. My two students were the only duet acting scene chosen so in their minds and mine as well they "won" that event. The staging of a play is completely collaborativwebut the IE event is the opposite of that.  I also agree with my fellow louisiana teacher that we are often asked to show results to justify funding and frankly our existence at times. So if I have to call it winning im gonna call it winning.  Sorry if yall disagree but my two students (who were the only two my school could afford to send so it is most certainly not a resource thing) were on top of the world and I am super proud of their accomplishment.  If calling it a competition inspires them then so be it.

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Shane Stewart
Talented Theatre Instructor
Baton Rouge LA
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13.  RE: competitve language

Posted 8 days ago
I applaud you and your student's accomplishments. I used to coach speech, and I would tear up with pride when my students exceeded their own expectations and placed in finals or won an event. Those competitions changed my life as a student, and I know it's changed my former students' lives as well.

You can compete and be collaborative. You know how I know this? Because of Texas UIL One Act Play. Most of us are willing to help other directors (even our direct competition!) by sharing scripts, props, costumes, directing ideas, whatever. Being competitive does not negate collegiality unless one is a jerk, and those people would be jerks no matter what. And I know some jerk directors who won't share advice, ideas, or water if you're dying of thirst. But most are sharing and giving, and something being competitive won't change that for them. In fact, my students would also share pieces and direct each other even though they were competing against each other.

You have to foster POSITIVE, LOVING competition within your ranks. Yes, I joke with my kids that I'm competitive as anything, and only care about winning. But they see from my actions that is not true.

I'll close with something a coworker told me once: "If you are doing all the good things speech competitions purport to do and teach (theatre in our case) your students will win no matter what. The trophy is a lovely bonus." Change your definition of winning, and you always win. And then the trophies you bring home become an exciting addition to what was already won.

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RaMina Mirmortazavi
Deer Park High School
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14.  RE: competitve language

Posted 7 days ago
I, too, celebrate both your students achievements- they should be very proud of their accomplishments.  It is very exciting that they got to present their work on such a large stage!

But, I must disagree that it is not a competition- as there can be multiple superior ratings given in a room or festival.  If the festivals only allowed one superior rating to be awarded- then I would concede the point.  I know that some states have their local festivals set up differently where only one IE can be passed along to next level- and I kind of find that unfortunate...but that's not for me to decide.

I also understand that administrations can relate to/understand more easily competitive language.  However, they also understand academic language too.  My administration understands what I mean when I tell them I presenting my work at an academic conference, and I think most other administrations would understand that too- seeing as how most people with post graduate degrees have to do these types of presentations as a part of that work.  I actually find it more beneficial when I tell them that I have students presenting their work for review at state and national conferences.  It heightens the academic integrity of the work that we are doing.

I believe in recognizing strong work- but I don't believe that it should be framed in a way as "me v you".  I think that harms the celebratory nature of these events and it can put barriers between students who are presenting work in the same room- which poses some challenges to them being good audience members and students.

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Scott Schoonover
Technical Director
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis MO
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15.  RE: competitve language

Posted 7 days ago
I understand your sentiment but i don't agree that competition is a detriment.  Tomato tomahto i guess.  You can be both competetive and collaborative at the same time.  In fact the judges during the meeting with the 8 acts chosen to perform say that those 8 acts represent the best of the festival.  You seem to make the leap that competition means degrading your fellow competitors.  Just being in and outside of the rooms where these IEs took place i can certainly tell you that is not the case.  Give the students more credit.

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Shane Stewart
Talented Theatre Instructor
Baton rouge LA
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16.  RE: competitve language

Posted 7 days ago
This argument has been around forever.   There is a always going to be an atmosphere of competition.  People like trophies, they like rankings,  and they want the accolades to put on resumes. Winning is great.  But if you are constantly worried about what other schools are doing and what judges say and  how you compare to the world, you will never put on an honest show and push your kids in the proper way.

When you start your festival piece, you need to forget about the dang trophies and rankings.  This is the time to risk and challenge the way your students think.  Put a student out there and see if you can get them past a hurdle that they have been struggling with.  Perform a piece that you couldn't perform for your fall play.  Go abstract.  Don't pick the safe play.  Don't pick a play that you know judges like because then your aren't performing for the right reasons.  You perform to impact the audience.  Make the audience think.  Make your actors think.  Make everyone feel.

Each play has its own demands and you and your group have to find and meet those demands together.  If you have a culture where your students are constantly worried that someone else's performance was better than theirs, then the student can never be truly in the moment and the demands of your play are diminished.

Theater is an unpredictable beast. Sports have a clear point value system.  Theater judges have to translate feelings into numbers. And how one judge feels could be very different than another one.  So any score you get is a numerical interpretation of someone's feelings and experiences.   There is truth in the score but it is a flawed ranking devise.

I have won before and have been completely obliterated by judges but every time my group has grown because all we worry about is putting on an honest production that hits our audience in the chest.  Whatever happens after that is an opinion. But your audience's reaction is always true.  Fight for that.



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Allen Price
Patuxent High School Director
California MD
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