Process vs. Product: Edu-tainment From a Teacher's Eyes
You've seen them from day one, soft-eyed and excited. You've watched them make friends, then lose them, be good to each other and be hateful. You've handed out band-aids, listened to descriptions of the last meal, family walk, or Disney movie in infuriating detail, celebrated huge successes and talked them out of disaster mode after the smallest of failures. You may not appreciate them when they're there, but you notice and ache a little when they're gone. They make your class (and you, as a result) whole.
Performing arts students don't generally have to pass a test to prove their knowledge; if they did, every kid would finally understand why I hammer home stage direction, enunciation, projection, silent support. Instead, they showcase their hard work in the hardest imaginable circumstances: in front of a live audience, listening to judgmental breaths, hushed whispers, and having no recourse but to keep going. You do not get to flip back the page, read over your answer a second time. Your first response is your only response; the joy, the curse, and the terror of live theatre.
Every semester, when my students perform in showcases of talent, I leave with strange mixed feelings of longing, discomfort, insecurity, anxiety. I wish I had spent a little more time on one skill or another; I fear I let them down by putting too much on my plate. A good administrator does not always make for a worthwhile teacher, and vice versa. If I hadn't chosen to get those files in order instead of planning that class a little more thoroughly, could I have found the phrase that would have driven home my point a little further? I might love them, but what I see onstage is always raw potential entirely layered over with poor teaching. Not poor acting; poor teaching.
But when a student fails to live up to your expectations with a sub-par performance, there's a glimmer of strange happiness to be found by turning your attention to the audience and watching how parents respond. They love their children more than you do, and they have seen how quickly, slowly, deeply, and intensely live theatre training has assisted in their development. And they don't see poor teaching or poor acting; they see brave students, and that's it. Forget correct lines, or a story you can follow; this isn't supposed to be Broadway, it's supposed to be the culmination of an acting class for fourth-graders, and instead of backing down or quitting, those fourth graders kicked the hell out of a scene they couldn't even read a month before. They see their shy child speaking, and they see their uncoordinated child dancing on beat. When their child who has trouble with pitch gets wrapped in the arms of other students in the choir, they see acceptance and love despite flaws and they realize that the relationships of children can model truth for even the most stoic of adults. And modeling truth is one of the main reasons we engage with theatre, on the stage or in the audience.
For my own part, product is secondary to process in my particular brand of education. I will not blame you for your choices onstage; I will congratulate you for mounting the mountain of a stage at all, and making choices, not just stagnating in silence. And I will be proud of the product, no matter how shaky or insignificant, because I know every band-aid, every Disney movie, and every little dream and big disaster that makes up this theatrical experience. The product may be small, but the process is large and without equal.