Books: one for students and one for teachers
Two useful new training books have winged their way to my desk from Routledge: a helpful textbook for pre-vocational students taking A Level, BTecs or the International Baccalaureate at school or college, and an in-depth exploration from America and the teaching and learning processes involved in the performing arts.
In Theatre in Practice: A student’s handbook, Nick O’Brien and Annie Sutton take the reader systematically through the four key practitioners. They provide an introduction to the work of Stanislavski, Brecht, Lecoq and Berkoff by explaining who they were and what they did and believed in a way which makes the material fully accessible to beginners. Each of these sections then offers straightforward ideas for ways of developing these ideas in classroom exercises with text as well as physical work.
The second half of the book is devoted to the skills the student needs to acquire – monologue delivery, directing, devising and improvising. It is all very practical and every page has side boxes containing additional snippets of information, boxed text and short sections so there is nothing dense, heavy, or over theoretical about any of it. The photographs are helpful too and I learned a large number of new-to-me technical terms from the glossary. I think this book could work very well to support the student as an adjunct to what’s happening in class – a course textbook, if you like.
The second book is The Heart of Teaching: Empowering Students in the Performing Arts by Stephen Wangh, a US playwright, director and teacher of acting. His book is as theoretical as Theatre in Practice is not, but that doesn’t stop it being readable, interesting and making a useful contribution to education and training.
Wangh is interested in the inner dynamics of teaching and the processes by which teachers can promote – or undermine – creativity. So he discusses ways of bringing out diffident students or helping those who need to, to shed some of their inhibitions and learn to be more open-minded. He is also strong on dealing with matters such as race, judgement and resistance – all issues which apply to performing arts teaching at any stage or level. So there’s something here for drama teachers of all sorts. I was especially taken, given what noisy places many classrooms are, with his thoughts about listening and silence.