The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and Gallati

The Path of an "Educational" Stage Director

A few thoughts about where I came from and where I'm heading...

My introduction to theatre came in the form of “You! Stand here!” bellowed by our beloved Shirley MacLaine-esque high school drama teacher. Fast-forward three years of clueless bumbling around various musicals, and I’m a college freshman who decides it’s time for an acting class. I distinctly remember that first day, circled on the floor of a dark room, surrounded by twenty-two effervescent souls practically crawling over each other to act out something that happened to them over the summer. My first thought was, “What are these people on?” followed quickly by the nauseating fact that the instructor chose the person next to me to start. It took her mere seconds to have the class in hysterics and then everyone was looking at me…no time to run, I just had to do it. I have no memory of the next few seconds, but the immediate smiles and friendly looks from this group of strangers clenched the jaws of the theatre bug biting down. Within a month my major focused on theatre arts. 

Throughout my adult life, I have traveled through acting into professional stage management while dabbling in the various designs and all forms of tech, eventually finding my true passion – directing – and a hidden one, teaching. I think it’s why I love directing so much: I’ve always viewed directing as teaching with a big party at the end. I might have a vision of what the playwright is saying, but my joy comes from working with actors and designers into a place beyond my solo idea. The light bulb that goes off when your actor finally “gets it” is exactly the same light you see in students’ eyes when they understand the planned lesson. 

I believe anyone can act. Just look at any group of children playing – no boundaries or fear, instantly jumping from playing cops and robbers to saving the universe with a simple bend of imagination. Somewhere in the course of growing up we learn to stamp down that basic joy of play, and one of my goals as an instructor is to reignite that flame and help rediscover a bit of fun in life. Simply put, this profession doesn’t pay enough not to be fun. A favorite compliment was given to me just when I started working at KidStage. I unleashed a group of six- to nine-year-olds into a jungle, and we were crawling around the floor being different animals. After about ten minutes of being a tiger, I looked up and found my supervisor smiling at me. She said, “It took me a few minutes to find you in the mass of growling mania. I could tell you were there because the room was controlled, but you were lost in the middle of the kids.” 

I teach by example, breaking up lectures with hands-on exercises, imparting information in whatever manner needed to gain understanding. I engage class participation early on and set up a standard that everyone will do it, everyone is risking, and therefore it’s safe. My students are expected to jump in headfirst. Just showing up isn’t enough – a typical day would start with full body and vocal warm-up, energizing both mentally and physically and preparing us to launch into whatever task lies ahead. My class always ends in recap, praising individual success and reminding all of lessons shared. I’m just Bryce in the studio and have been known to hold office hours in the local coffee shop. 

One of the most important keys to my method is creating a safe environment. I hold very strict rules regarding respect and acceptance; throwing oneself in front of a group of peers and baring anything is a huge risk and should be treated with utmost care.  An inappropriate remark or ill-timed laugh can destroy months of work. I expect my students to try, and I feel success is a benchmark determined individually – one person conquering a fear of speaking in front of people is another person’s master’s degree. 

My main reason in returning to graduate school was to attain the key to a position where I could assist in crafting the next generation of artists into collaborators. It is impossible to create theatre by oneself - at the very least you have to interact with the audience. I have a very strong belief in the collaborative element, and my chief principles in teaching are to instill in the student a strong sense of self and an understanding of the necessity of collaboration, as well as to provide the tools to cultivate both. 

Finally, one of my greatest personal lessons has been seeing the correlation between learning and forward motion. At every dead end my life has arrived at, one thing always stares back at me: stagnancy.  That is not to say I do not enjoy stability and structure, but to continue to grow adequately I’ve found I need to continue to learn.  I learn more in one day in front of a class than in a hundred books, for every relational moment is new. It’s been the most exciting thing I’ve attempted, and I look forward to continuing to learn and teach. 

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