A college professor once told me to write the following in my notebook at the beginning of our very first class: “There is no such thing as a child who hates music. But there are plenty who hate music teachers.” He then said if that is the only thing I remember from his class, it will be enough. Forty years later, it is the only thing I remember from that class. But its wisdom guided much of what I accomplished as a teacher and director.
Below are a few things I picked up from my forty years of teaching that I hope will help you succeed in your career as a teacher.
Whether you are more comfortable with a structured, linear rehearsal process or a more improvised, spontaneous approach, children, young and old, will sense if you are unprepared, stressed and/or ill-equipped for the task ahead. If unforeseen circumstances cause you to be unprepared, be honest and admit it. They’ll give you a pass once, maybe twice.
Enthusiasm is contagious. One of the best ways to teach creativity is to be creative and invite your students to join you in the process. While the final decision is up to the director, the accumulated creativity of the assembled company will be more interesting than the creativity of one person alone. So welcome suggestions and invite input from everyone.
After casting, a major responsibility of a director is to eliminate fear. Director, John Caird once said, “Every problem in directing can be reduced to fear. Fear causes inhibition. Find the source of the fear and eliminate it.” Whether it be a specific note/harmony in a song, a line of dialogue, a dance sequence or the interaction with another actor, prop, costume…, a director must identify and alleviate an actor’s fear if they are to succeed. Great art is created in an environment free of fear.
Criticize privately and praise publicly. When you slip up and criticize publicly, apologize publicly (and privately). A director need not, and cannot, be perfect. Do your best to tell the story of the show in as clear a manner as possible given the actors, staff and resources at your disposal. When you abruptly realize (which is how it often happens) that there is a better way to block or stage a scene, be honest, say so, and move forward. If it is a better choice, everyone will see it and respect you for it.
Build a Team
You should not, and cannot, do it all on your own. Theatre is a collaborative art form. If your budget does not provide for a production staff, build a team of volunteers (friends, alumni, parents) to share the many responsibilities involved in producing a musical. Become friends with the maintenance staff in your building, especially the night staff. Order extra show shirts for the maintenance staff and invite them to wear them on show nights. They are also an important part of your team.
Creating art is a privilege. Its nature is to be challenging, thought-provoking, exhilarating and exhausting. But when an artist gives all that they have to create a truthful work of art, the exhaustion that they experience at the end is a well-earned, joyful exhaustion. There is nothing quite like it, and it is the reason we look forward to doing it again and again.
JIM HOARE (Vice President, Education & Community Initiatives) has been extensively involved in theatre for the past forty years, working with High School, College and Community Theatres. He has directed over one hundred shows and musicals, including the first high school production of Once On This Island and the world’s first production of Les Miserables, School Edition. Jim is a proud member of the New York State Theatre Education Association (NYSTEA), the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), The American Association of Community Theatres (AACT), and he has presented workshops throughout the USA and UK. Jim is a recipient of New York’s Rod Marriott Award for Lifetime Achievement in Educational Theatre.
To find more useful resources from Jim, check out TRW’s new line of School Editions, which have been carefully edited, with additional director’s notes throughout, to make the show more producible for high school groups.