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Arts on view
Thinking in 3-D
Carolyn Anderson knows what it takes to be an actorshes had the training. But when it comes to theater work, shed rather do just about anything else, including directing, writing, and stage-managing. Acting is frightening work, she says plainly. I dont have the guts to be onstage, standing up there vulnerably in front of people
Last September Anderson had to overcome her stage fright to deliver Skidmores Convocation speech, which she was asked to write upon receiving the Ralph A. Ciancio Award for Excellence in Teaching. Established in 2000 to honor English professor Ciancio upon his retirement, the award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates teaching rigor, effectiveness, motivation, knowledge of subject matter, and dynamism. Anderson, whos been teaching theater at Skidmore for twenty-three years, was humbled by the recognition, which, she says, made me think even more about what I do in the classroomwhich is train theater students within the context of liberal arts learning. A lot of students come here with a background as performers, she says. One of the challenges is to help them readjust their thinkingto learn the intellectual, theoretical, and historical components of theater, to learn what their context is as a total theater artist, rather than just the star of a show.
Whats especially enjoyable about teaching at Skidmore, Anderson says, is bringing students to a new level of understanding and connection with the world around them. Among the courses she teaches are History of American Theater, Women in the American Theater, and playwriting. Directing is one of her favorite subjects because it helps students think on a three-dimensional level. They have to think as theater artists, not just about something on the page. Its the hardest class I teach.
Andersons approach to theaterin class, on stage, and in her own playwritingis always a collaborative one, involving set designers, actors, composers, and other writers. Theater is a human venture; it takes humans to create the humans on the stage, she says. In class and in rehearsal, we have a lot of intellectual conversations about what were doing and what it means. Collaboration is about interchange; its about being critical, giving another eye to something. As a director, you have to have a vision, but a lot of times that vision comes from how you work with other peopleits a collective vision.
Finally, Anderson asserts, In the theater, you cannot be a couch potato. Youve got to engage in all the things around you. She herself is inspired by art, music, dance, museums, plays, novels, newspapersand her students. They keep me going with their youth and enthusiasm, she says. Theyre committed to the process. Learning should be hard, it should be challengingbut it should be fun. I wouldnt be here if it wasnt fun. MTS
|Facing a semicircle of nine groggy-looking students in her morning directing class, Carolyn Anderson is a bundle of energy (even though shes been up late, directing Lanford Wilsons play The Mound Builders). The students have been reading The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. She instructs them to spend two minutes writing down everything they know about the playwrightwhatever comes to mind. Remember, as a director, youre being a detective, she coaches. In the ensuing discussion, Anderson remains animated, tapping her moccasined heels and toes on the floor, removing and replacing her eyeglasses, gesturing her approval when someone makes a good point.
So, what about Tennessee Williams?
Student: Im guessing he drank a lot
Anderson: Youre rightalcohol and drug abuse was a big part of his life
Student: Wasnt Tennessee not his real name?
Anderson: Thats correctThomas Lanier was his real name
What else do we know about him?
Student: He was American.
Anderson: Yes! And thats a very important point. We have a very short American theater history, starting with Eugene ONeill in the 1920swhich wasnt that long ago. Tennessee Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie in 1944. Hes one of the great American playwrights. Why has he stood the test of time? Because his characters are benchmarks in American acting. They are memorable characters we can relate to.
Student: With all the charactersyou despise them, yet absolutely love them
Anderson: Yes! The characters are maddening!
After a bit more discussion, Anderson breaks the class into three groups, instructing the first to analyze the economic, political, social, and religious environment of The Glass Menagerie. Look at dialogue, she tells the second group. What are the choices of words, phrases, images; what is the structure of the characters lines and speeches? And the third group is to look at ideasthe meaning of Williamss play, in title and content.
When the students reconvene, its apparent that Andersons assignment was a success. The students have been considering much more than a script: theyve been thinking in 3-D and learning what directing is all about. MTS