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Nobody cared if we improved

Regardless of whether we were preparing scenes, working on Thespian competition pieces, or even rehearsing our mainstage shows, one thing was always clear, and always depressing:

Our teachers fundamentally didn't care whether we improved as actors or not.

There were, of course, some weeks we worked and
many we didn't. But every performance, every exercise we did was simply a means to put a grade in the gradebook. Every lesson was meant to kill a class period. Learning, growth, advancement. . . these goals were irrelevant. As long as you showed up and demonstrated enough competence to get through the assignment, that was all that mattered. Our teachers didn't put forth any plans to actually turn us into better actors. If we did improve, it was against all odds and not the product of anything we did in class.

The only metrics by which we were measured across the entirety of the program were the letter grades A through F, like any other subject in school. If you performed, you earned an A. If you flat out refused to do anything, you received an F. (The only instances you might wind up with a middle grade was if you blatantly fumbled, forgetting half the script or something and giving up halfway.) Otherwise, it was that black or white. Did you show up and present something? You passed, without further comment. Were you refusing to do any work? You failed, without further comment. Other than the occasional sarcastic remark when we messed up, our teachers mostly had no feedback or follow-up for us.

It was bad enough that they had no plans to help us get better, but that might be bearable if they at least wanted us to do so. But they didn't. Or, if they did, it was never discussed, formally or even casually.

In four years, in a school I specifically chose out of all others to learn and get better at acting, no teacher ever had a single conversation with me about my ability. As was custom, I just. . . completed assignments and received grades for them like any other academic subject. No further comment.

At best, our teachers approached acting assignments with a very technical eye. They made comments about our volume, pace, or diction. They may have spoken up about lines they didn't understand. They did not address our actual telling of the story, the understanding of the characters' motivations.

It feels funny to write this out concretely, but I fundamentally don't know if I am "good" at acting or not. Really. I don't know if I'm believable, or natural, or funny, or a good improviser, or effective onstage at anything else. As ridiculous as it sounds, I never heard a word from my teachers one way or the other.

Can you imagine taking private lessons in a given hobby, like music or painting, and spending ten hours every week with a teacher who never once talks to you about your progress? What about spending four years in a gym with a personal trainer who pays no mind to whether you're getting in shape or gaining a hundred pounds? Picture yourself trying to do your best and only to see your coach or teacher on their phone, not giving a shit.

Everybody had a few teachers growing up who made it clear they didn't want to be there. I had plenty myself. But maybe, in one of the top-rated theater schools in the city, in an audition-based program, wherein students spent two hours a day in theater classes for four years, just maybe, one of the five salaried theater teachers could've brought themselves to have one conversation about our progress with each of us. What do you think?


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