View: Teaching CV
I’ve had the good fortune to have had a number of excellent mentors and teachers in my training as a theatre artist. What’s been most helpful to me as a student, and what I try to replicate in the classroom as a teacher, is an atmosphere of support, exploration, trust, and clarity.
I remember when I first got to college, I wanted to try acting but was anxious because I’d never been involved with theatre before. If not for the generous souls of Jon and Teryl Halquist, who ran the theatre program, I probably would have run away. But, encouraged by their support, I worked hard and took several classes and in my junior year was cast in a lead role in “The Glass Menagerie”. The experience was glory! Now, almost two decades later, I do my best to encourage students with similar warmth. If a student is struggling, I find the most economical way to give them constructive criticism and cheer them on and avoid at all cost any negative statements that might shut them down.
Another great teacher who influenced my development was Irene Worth, the acclaimed Broadway actress. I had the good fortune to befriend Irene at the end of her life, and she became a mentor to me. We would often go to the theatre together, and afterwards she would ask me my opinion of what we saw. I remember being struck that this esteemed actress, rather than going on about her own experience, would question me and draw out my own thoughts. Once I identified what I liked in a production, she would ask what it was specifically that I had enjoyed. She would never let me get away with “because it was good”; instead she’d encourage me to be specific. “There was a sense of flow” or “the scene was clear” or “the actors were so simple and present” were answers I began to arrive at. With Irene’s help, I learned to move away from blanket statements of good/bad and to look much closer at what makes successful theatre work. In the classroom I try to replicate this style of teaching, of exploring by asking questions and encouraging students to become specific about what they experience. In this way, students go beyond generalities of good/bad and become more subtle in their thinking about how stories are effectively told.
I also have been blessed to work with and be taught by Kevin Coleman, the Director of Education at Shakespeare & Company. Kevin has the remarkable ability to walk into a classroom and put students at ease; this atmosphere of safety he creates inevitably helps students to take risks together. He places a large emphasis on creating ensemble and a sense of trust, and students in his classes are supportive of one another and often cheer each other on. Inspired by Kevin’s teaching, I constantly reinforce with my own students the importance of community whether it be in class or in a production. By building this atmosphere of trust, I observe students dare to take risks because they know they will be supported not only by me but by each other as well.
One other teacher I’ve had the pleasure to work with is Seth Barrish, the Co-Artistic Director of the Barrow Group Theatre Company. What is most striking about Seth’s teaching is how clear and efficient he is in communicating an idea/thought. Rather than pontificating about lofty ideas of art and theatre, he offers precise, concrete suggestions about what a student could focus on. He asks his students to practice the same concise rigor in their own thinking. Seth’s refusal to speak in wishy-washy abstractions when it comes to acting/directing/writing has been an enormous help to me, and my thinking about how to practice theatre has become much clearer as a result. I strive to bring such clarity to my classroom. I practice modeling simple, direct language, and ask my students to do so as well. While I believe passion certainly has it’s place in the theatre, I ask students not to forget that without clarity all the passion in the world would be meaningless.
In conclusion, as a teacher I strive to make my classes a safe place where students are supported and their voices nurtured. It gives me great pleasure to teach, to see a light bulb go on for a student. In the end, I hope to help facilitate as many light bulbs burning as brightly as possible.
Select List of Places Robert has Taught
- Actors Studio Pace University MFA Program
- Emerson College
- Brandeis University
- Shakespeare & Co
- Barrington Stage Co
- NJ Performing Arts Center
- Wheelock Family Theatre Co
- The Barrow Group
- St. Lukes School
- Taconic Hills
- Mt. Everett
- Chatham High
- Mission Hill
- Richmond Consolidated