Teaching: The Hidden Cost

While I hear it a lot less frequently now (mostly due to a work-imposed social exile that keeps me in my cave hunched over my books by candlelight most evenings), I’ve definitely heard it before.  It’s the bane of every teacher ever and something that, try as we might, we simply can’t escape.  “Oh, so, your semester ends soon which means that you’ll just be goofing off for a few months, right?”

This tune is a byproduct of a general lack of comprehension about a teacher’s job.  The idea that we are only working when standing in front of a classroom is completely deceptive.  Let me give you an idea of the hidden fees of teaching…

If I teach a class which meets twice a week for two hours each meeting (not uncommon; right now my class meets twice a week for 2 hours and fifteen minutes each session), I am in the classroom for that time certainly.  But how about the time it takes me to prepare the class?  If the class is a course I’ve taught before, it might take me between ten minutes and a half hour to prep my lesson plan and materials for the day.  Not a big deal.  If the class is a class that I have not taught before, or a session that I’m adding to a previously taught course, I might spend upwards of one to two hours preparing a lecture (depending on how familiar I am with the material, how much visual material I need to prepare, and how many handouts I need).

But wait, there’s more.

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

I also assign written work at least once every other week.  Grading these pieces will take me approximately fifteen minutes per piece of written work (unless it’s a longer paper, in which case we’re looking at at least a half hour per).  Multiply this by eighteen (for the number of students I have in a typical class) and that’s 4.5 hours of grading (at minimum) every other week.

But wait, there’s still more.

I’m required to hold office hours at every institution where I teach.  I tend to do mine by appointment, but generally I’ll have at least one hour per week on average over the course of the semester devoted to my students completely outside of the classroom.

Oh, and the administrative duties I take care of (like my roster, class participation grades, and sundry e-mails).  Depending on how much support my class needs, I can spend several hours a week doing this; let’s say a combined total of two hours on average per week.

Add all this up and you’re looking at thirteen hours a week minimum for one class.  A teaching load for a contracted professor might be 2/3 (two classes one semester, three another), but adjunct life is not so kind.  It’s not unusual for us to take on between four and five classes in a semester if we can get them.  That’s a sixty-five hour week just devoted to getting your classes taught (this does not include commute time, which can be substantial for adjuncts who need to move around in order to acquire the coarse load that makes a sustainable pay-check).

According to the Adjunct Project, an invaluable source of information about these things, the average pay for an adjunct is $2,987 per three-credit course.  Multiply that times the proverbial ten classes that creates the proverbial sixty-five hour week to determine the average salary of such an individual: $29,870 per year… with no health benefits or job security.

Oh, and, this doesn’t take into account the dissertation (which for most people is a second full-time job; that is, if you want to finish it in a socially appropriate time).

I don’t mean to sound like a negative Nancy or come off complaining about my lot; I actually love my various jobs and it’s a joy to work them.  But I want to make extremely clear the kinds of sacrifices that someone in my position (not necessarily me) makes just to teach a good class, live a sustainable lifestyle, and achieve her long/short terms goals.  Let me tell you how many family gatherings I’ve missed just this year because of my job.  If I choose to take a few days off in the middle of the week or (gasp!) over the summer, those are hard-earned days that I fought uphill to get.

So please; before you cast aspersions about “summer holidays”, think twice.  And think twice about the education you/your children have received/are receiving then say a little “thank you” to the adjuncts out there who labored to give it to you/them.  Adjunct kind will thank you for this.

Apple for the Teacher?

I am absolutely inundated in work.  All of it is good and fun, but oh man it’s a lot.

I started teaching my Shakespeare Appreciation class today for the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute at Tufts.  OSHER is a continuing adult education program and they have an office at Tufts, so we graduate students frequently get pinged to pitch seminars at the program we might be interested in teaching.  Of course I saw this as an opportunity to talk about Will with a roomful of willing victims pupils, so I proposed a class.  It was snapped up immediately with great enthusiasm.  Once accepted, the course hit high

Shot I grabbed from inside the Cutler Majestic recently.... and then instagramed... but the filters make it so pretty!

Shot I grabbed from inside the Cutler Majestic recently…. and then instagramed… but the filters make it so pretty!

registration numbers which is even more exciting.  On the whole, I felt that the program really supported the possibility of a successful workshop.

I’m teaching As you Like it and King Lear over the course of eight weeks (with one odd little hiccup next week; since it’s Spring Break we won’t be holding seminar).  We started by discussing the first two acts of As You today.  I framed this with a discussion of Shakespeare’s early years as well as the pastoral genre and the differences we find between court and country in Shakespeare’s play.  I also showed a clip from the Branagh film.  While I don’t think it’s the best example out there of a well performed As you Like it (the concept is confused at best, and blenderized at worst…) I do think that it provides a great forum for discussion.

My class consists of fifteen students all well into their adult years with a plethora of backgrounds.  This is really exciting because it means that I have the opportunity to chat with all different levels of Shakespearience in one room.  I did a lot of lecture today, which I hope to remedy in the future, but by the time we were into the film they were ready to jump in with their own thoughts.

Teaching this workshop is a lot more relaxing than teaching a standard college course.  First of all, there’s no grading (which, by the way, takes up an enormous time devotion if you’re doing it right).  Secondly, everyone in that room really wants to be there and is dedicated to getting something out of the class.  This is wonderful because it gives me the opportunity to assume that we’re all interested in the topic rather than fulfilling our gen ed requirements.  There’s already the spark of curiosity in this room, which goes a long way towards generating good wholesome dialogue amongst ourselves.  Last, and certainly not least, these are adults.  They are older than I am.  They have vastly more world experience than I do.  They are definitely ready to learn from me, but I am so stoked about the possibilities of what they see in the material.  Their smorgasbord of experience, so different from mine, is really going to highlight this text from an entirely new perspective than the ones I’m used to.

So while my Mondays just got longer, I’m totally mind-numbingly ecstatic about it.  It’s going to be a lot to work through, but I think it will definitely be worthwhile; both for me and for my new students.

Through Good Times and Bad

In case you haven’t been super-stalking my digital life, you may or may not know that I’ve just come off a grand adventure.  Three days; three plays; three reviews.  All have been posted to New England Theatre Geek (since in my copious free time I moonlight as a reviewer there), and you should check them out if you’re at all interested in the American Shakes-scene right now.

What this really means is that I’m exhausted.  I’ve been working so much that I’ve forgotten what “fun” is.  I demonstrated this fact the other day when I sat down to my desk, looked at the pile of books I set aside to read that day for my Prospectus prep, and thought unironically “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY!”  (… it was “THE BEST DAY”

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way.  This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way. This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

for maybe two hours before I realized that I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do before sundown, wasn’t getting through it as fast as I wanted to, and OH BY THE WAY also had a veritable pile of other work to do).  The stationary bicycle of PhD work has really got me down this week, and as a result I’m plugging along like the little engine that could (“I THINK I CAN I THINK I CAN”), or if you prefer, Dory the forgetful fish (“JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”).  That said, I have a hard time sitting down at my computer for more than twenty minutes without my eyes glazing over.  It’s just the way it is sometimes.

The problem is that it will always be like this on occasion.  There are days, no matter what you’re doing and how much you love doing it, that you simply don’t wanna.  Heck, there might even be whole weeks when you simply don’t wanna.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love your work, it just means that you’re a human being and not a research machine.

Understanding this and getting through it is a process.  Up until now, I’ve prided myself on the point that I can work through just about anything; extreme weather conditions (you laugh, but it’s actually a problem in deep summer when your apartment doesn’t have central air or deep winter when you’re freezing mid-day because you’re trying to keep your heating bills down), extreme emotional conditions (life happens and you still have to work), extreme stress (I swear I will never again be able to hear the words “exams” without a small spine-tingling shudder), extreme pain (I’ve undergone minor surgery and still had to work the same day), and extreme workload.  The fact that these extenuating factors take their toll is not something that I’ve cared to put much thought into, but we need to face reality.

Being a graduate student is hard.  Doing the work for a Ph.D. is REALLY hard.  There’s a

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

reason that not everyone gets one.  What we’re doing is extraordinary.  Period.  If, at any time, you feel tired, overwrought, or wrung out, it’s probably because you’re working your smart little elbow patches off.

This work is exhausting, life-consuming, and never-ending.

It’s also incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and the most enormous privilege.

To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

There’s good and bad in everything and, when you’re doing something extraordinary, the extremes are pretty extreme.  Admitting this is not admitting defeat.  If you’ve hit a point where you’re just tired don’t let it stop you, but don’t assume that it makes you weak or lesser in some way.  Taking breaks is healthy and finding your break zen is important to productivity (I, for instance, need longer days to work at a slower pace.  I will take an hour and a half mid-day to fit a workout in, but I will work until 9 or 10 at night to get what needs doing done).

Really, though, if you’re going through a rough patch for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t make you a bad scholar, it doesn’t make you a bad teacher, and it certainly doesn’t make you a lesser person.  Just take a moment to accept that you’re a human being.  Remember your triumphs, and consider slowing your pace just a tad.  You’ll pick up the slack when you’re back in the saddle.  As long as less work doesn’t become a habit, it all evens out in the end.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch some trashy television and detox from my Academic Life for a while.  If you need me, I’ll be on my couch with my Netflix.



After a hard-fought uphill battle, I am EXTREMELY pleased to report that I have ascended to Candidacy (with distinction, even!).

I would like to say that this occurred with great pomp, ceremony, circumstance, a standing ovation, and an elephant parade.  In actuality, it occurred in an office, at an unremarkable hour on Friday with little ceremony other than a few hearty handshakes.  T.S. Eliot’s prediction about the world ending could very well apply to my ascendance (…while I could also use the word “advancement”, how often in life do you get to say that you “ascended” as applied to yourself?).

I didn’t then make a great clamor, but rather had a lovely lunch with a friend, went directly to rehearsal to choreograph the murder of Young Siward on the battlefield by a bloodthirsty Scottish King whose name shall remain unsaid (using broadswords even), then went out to dinner with my beloved.  Saturday we celebrated with a spectacular trip to an ice castle in the White Mountains (a gorgeous drive, even when

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

headed through a not-so-small snowstorm on your way home).

I’ve begun a two-week sabbatical from most things academic because I’ve been running on overdrive since May.  I can only stop doing “most things” because the semester has already begun and, therefore, my acting class is in session.  Luckily it’s a joy to teach and not as thinky as something like… say… Postmodern Theory.

While I would like to say that being ABD doesn’t feel any different from being a Ph.D. Student, right now it feels completely different.  For once, I get to think about my own projects and only my own projects.  I get to stop worrying about crazy exams and tests that measure my aptitude for things that I may or may not use (probably will, but who knows?) in the near future.  I get a chance to really stretch my wings and fly home to victory while dancing in the glory of my subject matter.  In other words: from here on in, it’s all-Shakespeare all-the-time.

Mostly.  Unless I pick up an intro class, or a history of theatre class, or a writing seminar, or any number of things that they might ask an adjust instructor with a degree in English to teach.  I might even teach (gasp!) novels!

But for the next two weeks, I’m catching up on e-mails, putting projects to bed that have been awake for far too long and are (thereby) cranky, running errands that have lain dormant far past their expirations dates, and on the whole preparing for the next step in this grand adventure that is doctorhood.

So for now, I sign of as (for the first time),

Danielle Rosvally

First Day of School!

The first day of school, no matter how many times I experience it (and at this point in my life and with my level of education, trust me, it’s a LOT), is never less exciting.

I’ve found that many of the same things which got me going as a student also get me going as a teacher.  Will I like my new class/classes?  What kinds of exciting challenges does the semester have in store?  Where will be my habitual sitting place so as to exude the proper air of interest without creepy slobbering over-engagement?

What should I wear?  What’s the first thing I should say?  Every semester, I’m allotted the golden opportunity to leave yet another first impression.  These people will, over the course of the next several months, becoming incredibly important in my life and with whom I will (with any luck) leave some kind of impression.  It’s absolutely vital that they take away from that first moment some kind of essence of who I am and what they’re about to get.

My room.

My room.

I’ve always seen a kind of magic in the first day.  Like you can somehow use it to gaze into the murky depths of the future and see what kind of semester you’re in for.  My experience over the years has been mixed with this tactic, but I’ve never stopped trying and today will be no exception.  Looking around the room, I will absolutely attempt to glean the nature of the students before me and what kind of challenges we will face together.

Another great thing about teaching is that I know this will never work.  At some point this semester (and probably at several points this semester), my students will throw me something that I absolutely could not have seen coming.  Some curve ball or complication, some question or concern, something I had never thought of before.  Solving this problem will be a learning experience for all of us, and this is part of why I love my job so very much.

The moral of the story is this: I love school.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here.  Teaching excites me, learning makes me feel alive, and the exhilaration of the classroom just hasn’t gotten old.  If I can instill one thing and one thing only into my students during any given semester, it would be my love of learning things.  I suffer under no delusions about teaching classrooms full of future Broadway stars, and though I do firmly believe in the infinite potential of my students, I also recognize that most of them are probably taking my class for a liberal arts credit.  As such, it’s important to me to leave them with skills that they will use no matter what they choose to do with their lives.  To love learning is one of the greatest gifts I could give them.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Today was back to the grind.

Which meant that I, like the rest of the world, spent the first half of my day unburying my inbox and summarily removing my head from the sand.  While I did do e-mail triage when I was away (I really can’t help it; I absolutely hate seeing those little red notification numbers pop up on my iPhone and not doing anything about them), this still took up a significant chunk of my time.  Which was a shame because my to-do list today was mammoth and included a large number of tasks, most of which could go on for an indefinite period of time.

I haven’t, until recently, really tested the outer limits of my juggling skills.  I know that my time management skills are superb, and I know (relatively) how much I can take before things begin to slip through the cracks.  As such, I tend to take on projects (especially short-term or intermittent projects) until my plate is absolutely at its breaking point.  I recently did a count of how many jobs I am actually working right now.  To qualify, I

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

considered a “job” as an ongoing project that has to do with my professional resume (either as an artist or an academic; because at this point one feeds the other and so they are essentially the same thing… I’m a mecha-demic).  Since I’ve been taking on various fight directing projects and small acting gigs (to keep up with these or where you can see my work, bop on by to my extracurricular activities page which I regularly update), the number fluctuates somewhere between five and ten on any given week.

It’s gotten so bad that my boyfriend, when I mention “my boss” or “my job”, has taken to asking “which one?”.  When we go see a show, which we do on a regular basis, he has to ask me “where did these tickets come from again?”  Usually he remembers to ask this question before the show so as to temper his feedback accordingly (you don’t know awkward until you’ve experienced a car-ride home from a show which you slammed before asking your companion how she was actually involved in its production only to find out that her input was exactly what you just vehemently protested*).

Occasionally I think that perhaps I should scale back.  When I have these thoughts, I like to remind myself that despite working long days, late nights, odd hours, and weekends on occasion**, I actually enjoy 80% of the things that I do (and that lingering 20% consists of necessary by-products; i.e. paperwork, annoying administration stuff, etc.).  There aren’t many people who can say that their job is consistently rewarding, always interesting, and ever-changing.  So even though paying my bills every month is a constant struggle, I can’t help but feel inescapably lucky.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pursue the level of education that I have, and I’m lucky to do so at an institution which is geographically located in a place where I actually want to live.

I’m lucky to have friends and loved ones who support (even if they don’t fully comprehend) my endeavors and are willing to listen to me ramble about history when I’ve had a bit to drink.

I’m lucky to be an artist of enough varying types that people are willing to pay me to

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you'll see this audience set dressing.  You won't see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you’ll see this audience set dressing. You won’t see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

execute my art, and give me the opportunity to showcase and stretch it on a regular basis.

I’m lucky to encounter so many talented and intelligent people in my travels: students, mentors, and colleagues.

I’m lucky to have the means to participate in all the extracurricular activities which keep my multitude of jobs going; conferences, workshops, seminars, performances, classes, lectures, etc…

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great start.  As I look into 2014, I see some changes on the wind.  It’s nice to take stock of what I have, even as I know it’s going to become what I had.

One more week of break before classes start and I’m determined to make it count.



*please note that this hasn’t happened in quite some time; whether that says something about the growth of my skills or the quality of my current company is yet to be determined.

**…okay, fine, on a regular basis.

A Pensive Moment

You ever have one of those moments where you find yourself doing something and, unheeded, your brain slams you to some point in your distant past when you were doing something absolutely, completely different and all you can think is “well dang, I never thought I’d be doing this”?

It’s been happening a lot to me recently.  I think this is mostly due to teaching my acting class.

This semester is the first time that I’ve had a classroom all to myself; not team-taught, not taught with supervision, not teaching off of someone else’s syllabus.  I make the rules, I enforce them, I create the lessons, and I have complete control over what goes on in my classroom during class.

Since it’s a rudimentary acting class, it requires me to go back to the fundamentals of my

Never thought I'd be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

Never thought I’d be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

own training which, essentially, requires time travel.  I think back to the person I was when I was doing these exercises, when I was turning in these kinds of assignments, when I was the wide-eyed optimistic student.  And thinking back upon that, I simply can’t escape the fact that I never could have planned things this way.

I never thought I’d be an acting teacher and certainly not within a university setting.  I never seriously thought I’d be getting a PhD (though the notion had crossed my mind, it wasn’t as something tangible or relevant until very recently).  And I certainly never thought that the academic world which is now my embroiled lifestyle could be a valid and sustaining life choice (though I guess, with the job market being what it is, we could debate the usage of the term “sustaining”).

It’s funny because it all seems so obvious.  My specific background lends itself really well to this kind of vocation.  That being said, there were a series of choices which seem to have logically set my feet on the path I now travel (and, if you really want to think of it this way, couldn’t have landed me anywhere else).  The question I keep coming back to is “well, if you didn’t think you’d be doing this, what did you think you’d be doing?”

The real answer is that I had no idea.  I knew I wanted theatre to be a deep part of my lifestyle.  I knew that certain works touched and moved me in a way that others did not.  I knew that I had enough and diverse background knowledge that I wouldn’t be happy being limited to a single middle-powered role in a top-down industry (theatre is totally a top-down industry).  I knew that I wanted to be an educator of some kind, but what kind was completely beyond my ability to understand.

I keep wondering what my students must think of the exercises that we’re doing.  I remember doing most of them myself, but (of course) I pointedly ignored the urgings of my teachers to keep the kinds of journals that I’m forcing my students to (by way of a graded assignment; see how tricksy I am?).  These days, I really wish that I had the kinds of resources that I am asking my students to develop for themselves.  There are other

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that'd land me here.

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that’d land me here.

reasons to keep track of things this way, but I will admit to the romantic hope that someday one of them finds herself in the situation I’m in: completely unwittingly winding up in my shoes and fervently hoping that something from her past can reach across the years to give her some guidance.

I think back to my teachers and find that I don’t think I appreciated them the way I should have.  Then again, I’m not sure I could have appreciated them this way.  I don’t think I could have understood the sheer amount of effort that went into doing what they do until this moment, when I was called upon to do it in turn.  And at the risk of sounding overly romantic, it’s kind of comforting to take my place in this cycle.  Even if, for just a short time, I can contribute to the turning of the wheel, it’s nice to know that my teachers’ teachings didn’t die with me.  Passing on the information is a real joy and, even on my bad days, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do so.

…Yes, even when I’m facing down a mountain of grading.  Which, by the way, is another thing I never considered until I became a university educator.  Assignments are as much (if not more) work for the instructor as they are for the student.  In case you were wondering why the instructor can’t party until the fat transcript prints.

Mid Semester Slump: Fall Edition

Even though it’s well past midterms, I’m definitely feeling the effects of mid-semester crunch.

This is partly due to how my semester is scheduled (two conferences in three weeks will make a girl extremely tired; especially when she’s still dealing with orals, work for various professional committees she’s on, teaching her class, and still trying near-futilely to catch up on sleep/sanity from the summer).  But I think there’s also a certain degree of universality to it: suddenly, those piles of grading on your desk have a new urgency.  The star-struck wonder and optimistic first few weeks of any fresh start (a semester included) has faded; this is where the real work begins.

With fatigue setting in, I’m having to return to my old “find the energy” axioms.  Here are a few that are keeping me going right now; hopefully some of them can also add some inspiration to your day.

1)   It’s fall in New England and everything is beautiful.  I can barely move without

Captured on a walk yesterday!

Captured on a walk yesterday!

having to pause for a foliage picture (thanks to a new-found interest in photography apps for my pocket-robot, I have some great tools with which to capture these).

2)   Fall also means pumpkin flavored everything.  Though by virtue of having discovered a wonderful pumpkin spice flavor syrup recipe I am no longer limited by the calendar as to when I consume my pumpkin coffee, it’s still comforting to know that on days when I just don’t have time to make myself a latte I can rely on good ol’ dunks to provide.

3)   Soon it will be winter.  Winter is when a break happens.  Winter is also when my favorite holiday happens.  This also means that, very soon, I will have full social license to blast my Christmas Music for at least a few months before it becomes taboo again to do so until next year.  Believe you me, nothing brings a smile to a poor downtrodden graduate student like pop culture icons belting Christmas tunes.

 4)   While conference season is stressful, it also gives me an excuse to wear my favorite tweed jacket.  Though I haven’t had a moment to install the requisite leather elbow patches, that particular upgrade is definitely in the works and I hope to have it in place by the next wave of professional gigs which require professorly clothing.

The blue mountains as seen from my plane during the fly-over last week

The blue mountains as seen from my plane during the fly-over last week

5)   Despite all efforts by nature to kill it, my herb garden is still going strong.  As is my aloe plant.  For those not in the know, I (until very recently) was self-titled DANIOR MURDERER OF VEGETATION (caps required for proper voice intonation).  When my trusty bamboo plant was killed by a tragic fungal infection last year, I thought my days of caring for flora were over.  However, convinced by my own tenacity, I managed to overcome my grief and acquire several new plant-friends.  I don’t want to say this too loudly for fear that they might overhear and decide that it’s a great time to kick the proverbial bucket, but they may just be long-lasting installments in my life/office.

6)   Even though I’m really tired, I know that I’m just one workout away from an endorphin high and a quick battery recharge.  It’s not a permanent solution, but it definitely helps me plug along and plow through the multitudes of material on my desk (today’s challenge: several period fencing manuals, most unavailable in modern typesetting… the joys of archival/textual scholarship).

And on that note, perhaps hitting the gym will give me a little pick-me-up and help me through the rest of this afternoon.

I hope you’re having a productive day, and that the mid-semester slump isn’t hitting you too hard!

Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

Among my myriad of other tasks, I am currently doing some assembly work on my syllabus for my intro to acting class.

This is a bizarre experience in a lot of ways because it makes me harken back to many disparate but not unrelated periods of my life: when I was a wide-eyed but arrogant college freshman taking my first semester of classes, when I was a wide-eyed but talented youth taking my first acting classes, when I was a wide-eyed but optimistic young actor pounding pavement and auditioning to land parts that would surely, one day, make me famous.

…Oh how far have I come.

I do have high hopes for the potential of this course (as well as a few realistic ones which are probably nearer the mark for the actual effect that I can have on students of varying degrees of seriousness over the course of one semester).  Mostly what this has made me do is spend time going back to basics, remembering what it’s like to be new at something (which, as a dear mentor once told me, is the key to success at any level; she called it “beginner’s mind”), and thinking very seriously about if I could only instill one thing upon an absolute beginner student of acting, what would that be?

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp things... this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp albums… this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I’ve come up with some answers (which I will leave unsaid in this forum, at least until I test their efficacy in the classroom).  I’ve also come up with some things that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out (which I am much more inclined to share since they may or may not make it into my classroom given the fact that most of my early experience was in conservatory-setting rather than the non-major-friendly theatre department which, as you may imagine, is a completely different beast).  As it turns out, those things are pretty applicable to things outside of acting and so are also pretty relevant to the general blogosphere…

Always have confidence.  Your confidence, more than most other things about you, will attract the auditioner’s eye.  Be very careful not to confuse confidence with arrogance, however; it’s a very fine line.  One is attractive; the other is repulsive.

Make eye contact, shake hands firmly, know where your business cards are, smile, and be polite no matter who you think you may be talking to or how rude that person may be to you.  These things will make them want to work with you and, if they want to work with you, a myriad of other sins can be overlooked.

Life is too short to work with people who make you miserable and the power of networking is strong.  If you yourself are someone who is well liked (and, if you follow the above rules, why wouldn’t you be?), you will always find somewhere to land.  It may not be where you thought you’d land, but I promise it will be better for your sanity.

Protect your physical well-being.  If a director asks you to perform something that you feel is unsafe, say something and stick to your guns.  Your health is not worth a job no matter how many lines you have (especially if they’re not paying you).

Burning bridges is always a bad idea.  You never know where you’ll end up and who will be there with you.  Save yourself the awkward situation down the road and learn to execute grace and class as expediently as possible.

Theatre is an extremely high-stress profession that involves late nights, emotional intensity, tough and frugal living, and the necessity to disconnect yourself from your own ego.  The sooner you understand how these things may effect you and how you deal with them the better off you will be in the long-run.  If you can’t do any one of these things, you may want to reconsider your life choices.

Just because you aren’t a full-time theatre professional doesn’t mean theatre can’t be a part of your life.

It’s okay to wind up somewhere you hadn’t planned on being.  It’s okay to decide that this isn’t the path for you.  It’s okay to start over for any number of reasons.  You aren’t letting anyone down (including yourself) and you haven’t lost anything by it.

The sooner you can be comfortable in your own skin with your own emotions, the better you will be onstage.  Acting isn’t a profession for the insecure.  You will be asked to be ugly, you will be told you are fat, you will be given unflattering things to wear.  If you aren’t completely comfortable doing this in front of large audiences of strangers multiple times a week, you won’t be able to do your job.

Good acting requires unending tenacity, insurmountable bravery, and unquellable curiosity.  Never give up, bounce back like rubber, always be willing to try things.

Not everything will work for you but that doesn’t mean that nothing will.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)... I want to say this is 2003/2004.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)… I want to say this is 2003/2004.

Strive for perfection, but realize that it is unattainable.  That doesn’t mean you should stop trying, just that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you realize that you didn’t quite manage it.  A true artist is never satisfied.

There will always be someone better than you.  There will always be someone prettier than you.  The trick is to figure out what you bring to the table that no one else can (…and if that fails to remember that talent and beauty are subjective but ice cream is not).

And on that note, I think I’ll go back to figuring out how much reading to assign.

Learning to Float

While I won’t be a real professor for some time yet, I have been a teacher many times in my life.

When I was in my undergrad, I worked as a swim instructor/lifeguard.  My father was a lifeguard.  My grandfather (though not his father) was a lifeguard.  It just seemed like the thing to do.  Despite this, and the fact that I am a strong swimmer, before getting my WSI (Water Safety Instructor certification) I had never been a technically proficient swimmer.  I wasn’t ever on a swim team, I only took the most basic of swimming classes as a kid, most of my swimming experience came from growing up in a lakeside community and spending summers paddling around the rafts there.  For a long time, I felt some innate guilt about this.  Who was I to charge for swimming lessons when I clearly wasn’t any kind of expert?

Then I got to doing it for a while.  I taught mommy and me classes, I taught kids, I taught adults who had never learned before.  I wasn’t coaching Olympic athletes, I was teaching people to float.  And to teach people to float, you don’t need to be an expert; you just need to be proficient and have an interest in seeing people get better.  If you’re a great teacher, you’ll have an interest in getting better yourself.

When I was getting my Master’s, I worked as a ballroom dance instructor.  Despite many

Dancing at the studio while studying for my instructor certification

Dancing at the studio while studying for my instructor certification

years of on-again/off-again dance training of different varieties and an innate ability to move gracefully, I wasn’t a technically proficient dancer (at least when I started instructor training).  Even after my time in ballroom boot camp, I certainly didn’t know everything there was to know about ballroom.  But I knew more than any normal person has any right to know.  And even as I was teaching, I was learning more and more.  I got better.

One day, my co-instructor expressed the same guilt I had felt at the 92nd St. Y so many years ago: she wasn’t a true expert.  She felt like a fraud telling people she was because she knew there were things she didn’t know yet.

I shared with her my philosophy: you don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer to teach people to float; just like you don’t need to be a champion ballroom dancer to teach people the basic steps.

On Wednesday, I gave a lecture to the class I am TAing this semester.  The lecture was on Augusto Boal as a theatre-maker and, since I’m at Tufts, included a great deal of historical context.  While I do know something about this subject (and, obviously, more than the average person on the street), I would not call myself an expert upon it.  But I wasn’t teaching forward spot runs.  I was teaching the box step.

So often we graduate students feel the pressure to know everything.  We’re thrown into a world with a lot of intelligent people where asking clarifying questions can be viewed as a sign of weakness and a sign of weakness is an invitation for the wolves to attack your soft underbelly.  It’s vital for us to remember that we came to graduate school to learn.  More importantly, we came to graduate school to learn to think.  More often than not, I know the answer to a question because I know where to find that answer rather than know the answer off the top of my head.  Oh, sure, you need to know some things.  I’m not advocating for the complete abandonment of knowledge as an institution.  But I am saying that it may be time to lighten up on ourselves.  We go through enough stress without holding ourselves to some unrealistic expectation that we are omniscient.

So, if ever you feel the pressure to know, just remember: being able to explain the three unities and Aristotle’s seven aspects of drama is more than most normal people will be capable of.  Knowing who the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen is and why he is important is a unique skillset (being able to spell his name even more unique).  Your undergrads will always come up with questions you can’t answer, but the important part is that you know where to look to find the answer.