Philosophy of Teaching in the ArtsTracy Bersley
I bring an ardent fervor for teaching: a belief that information can penetrate one’s whole self, a belief in the power of transformation that comes from the repetition of practice and experimentation, a belief that there is a union in the mind, body and spirit which intrinsically connects us to art and enables us to be artists. I am dedicated to helping each student find this union within themselves. It is always an active process of engaging this union in order to see more deeply into the work at hand. Theatre has the ability to transmute the way in which we see the world—like the way a piece of modern art works on our emotional brain, allowing us to see colors and shapes outside the museum as fresh new things. Similarly, theatre can bring to light themes that have been submerged. Guiding students through these shifts in perception, that is, how we use art to translate the world in which we live, makes up the foundation of my philosophy.
First, my experience has taught me many things but this I feel the most profound: just as friction makes fire, students, who are fighting to get over huge obstacles to achieve what they want, need that “friction” to generate heat, excitement, action or tension in their work. They find that communicating his or her invisible intentions on stage requires enormous amounts of energy, like starting a fire from two sticks. They need strength. They need to summon all their emotional resources. They need concentration and will. They need courage. But the most important conclusion we inevitably arrive at is that they also need form. Each artist comes into this differently; some have so much passion but cannot find the path to express it, while others master the techniques but cannot get the raw emotions out and onto the stage. My goal is to remove the blocks either way.
Second, the needs of each artist—whether actor, writer or director—vary depending on their creative and personal background as well as their state of mind. As students are learning about themselves and what they bring to their art, I encourage them to maintain both their artistic and personal integrity so that they are aware of the Self that is so important to their craft. I approach each student mindful of this and present information and suggestions according to what the individual needs most. My goal is always to test and push the limits of one’s abilities in order to encourage his or her own maximum growth in a way that is supportive and constructive. However, I do believe in presenting the truth to the students regarding their work, which is sometimes difficult, while at the same time, providing them with realistic solutions to their artistic problems.
Third, the actor has a special challenge that no other artist has: his or her own body is the vehicle or canvas with which she must work. His eye, ear, hand, foot or heart are both what he is studying and with what he is studying. To explore, she must call on every aspect of herself. Because of this, creating a safe and sacred place in the classroom is of the utmost to me. The students’ working space can be one in which they are allowed to explore fearlessly with both myself and their classmates, giving them permission to expand. This makes it possible to “sin boldly” as it were—to be willing to make huge choices and even mistakes from which they learn and create new ideas, to stand at the edge and be willing to jump. This is a terribly frightening thing for many students; exploring what is deep within them and then exposing it, bringing it out into the light of a classroom or a stage is one of the most vulnerable and naked things we do as artists. There is nothing behind which to hide. But this is to me, by far, the most important thing we can do—allow ourselves to reveal something uniquely personal that aims at a truth extending beyond the stereotypical notions of truth. My goal for each student is to be always digging deeper, always finding another way to communicate what he or she wants: is there another language, one of action, of sound, of play or of contradiction?
Last, my intention is to find a comprehensive awareness in each class, to find interdisciplinary connections and cultural implications in theatrical settings. Having studied or worked in Brazil, Argentina, the West Indies and Germany, I find the more knowledge and experience with which one weaves, the richer the tapestry becomes. I encourage directors, writers and actors to be constantly outreaching to fields that will augment their work. This wider lens demands the artist to be a cognitive, critical thinker with a strong disciplined work ethic and an open mind that continues to find the limitless possibilities in creating.
Being a guide to this bravery in theatre truly invigorates me…