‘To twitter, email or speak?’ That is the question

In today’s world there are many distracting technologies. They make life easier and more entertaining. However what are we losing from technology’s gain? In my mind we are losing some of our abilities to speak, to listen, and to form relationships. The following paragraphs show my perspective of 65 years as a learner, teacher and actor.

To start, cancel that acting and the learning skills involved, can help change these loses. How can learning to act and to pretend to be someone else on stage change a person and help them communicate better? I am sure there is research on this subject, but since I feel that personal experience is the best teacher, I will use my experience to explain. Art has had a large impact on my life. Acting and storytelling have had the most influence being a part of my life for almost fifty years. My first acting role was while in a Catholic Seminary in where I had a woman’s part. My most recent role was in “Servants of the Wind” in which I played an old veteran of the Civil War. I have played a king, a criminal, a detective, an explorer of the South Pole and many others. I went from having panic attacks and missing lines, to finally being able to move the play or story toward the end. in storytelling I have learned to be a pioneer, Revolutionary soldier, a storyteller of Native American stories, and others. All of this has helped me over the last 50 years. This experience helped me personally and within the workplace.

Acting for me started my first year in the seminary. Each of us had to take a turn in starting the Rosary. When my turn came, I began to panic as I started to say the first Hail Mary. Somehow I was able to finish, but I knew I had to do something to get rid of my fear. When we were going to put together a play, I decided to get involved. I got a part. Even though I missed my first line, I was able to get it going again. From then on, acting began to change my life. I left the seminary and pursued teaching. Early on I tried out for a play at Warren Players. Not only did I get a part, I got six parts. I did not socialize with the cast very much, staying in my dressing room instead, but it was a start. As I worked to become better, I found that that being in a relationship with a cast allowed my learning to multiply and expand beyond my expectations.

Primarily I learned to focus and go beyond the nerves, beyond my fears. When I made a mistake, I learned that the world did not fall down and I would not fall apart. Furthermore, as I worked to become a character either on stage or in the classroom as a teaching tool, I found that the character was able to think and do things that I could not do. By getting into a character, I was able to see with different eyes.

My skill set changed as I worked to learn lines and speak them. My voice changed to be able to project to an audience. I learned to say lines clearly and slow enough so the audience could understand. During the day, as a teacher, this learning translated to having my students able to understand directions and instruction better.

Furthermore, through acting I played characters that had faults and flaws. Some characters grew and others did not. I had to work through liking or hating the character. I began to see that I was then able to look inward and begin to change what I did not like in myself as well. In learning to see with different eyes and hear with different ears, I could apply that ability as a teacher in the classroom. I began to be able to put my self in my students seat or in their parents place. As a general rule, I learned to better respect the people with whom I needed to work or taught. Seeing with a different eye has proven a great help.

Listening is also an important part of acting. As an actor one must not only learn their own lines well but the responses, or cues from others’ lines. At times mistakes are made. Actors must improvise and be able to self-correct or get things moving in the correct direction. Though these mistakes on stage will not destroy the world, in real life failure to really listen can possibly change the world or at least lives. If a person can practice listening carefully on stage, that skill can be translated to real life situations.

I have seen the process of acting change not only myself but also others. To further prove my case I would like to give some classroom examples. I did “Midsummer Nights Dream” many times in my classrooms. This particular play I cast a hyperactive boy in the role of Puck. In class he had trouble learning. In this play he was able to focus his energy and learn every line he had. We were both pleased with the result. He found that he could use his energy in a good direction and learn. In another play I used in teaching, was one about Sojourner Truth. I had cast a boy, with a problem controlling his anger, as a Quaker who protects Sojourner when she tries to escape. The plantation master points a gun at this boy. In his character as a Quaker he had to control his urge to fight back. He did this in the play and I also saw some changes in the way he handled himself in other events in real life. The young and “not as young” can all learn from acting.

Locally where can Warren County people learn how to develop skills that an actor gains? For practice in listening, Authors and Books has a writers night on Saturdays and at other events they have. For acting, there is Warren Players. It is a great group with which people of all ages can learn. Struthers Library Theater has a group of young people in the ARTE, which helps younger people develop their acting and singing skills. The high schools still have productions for young players. ACA has acting classes for youths and adults. Start small. You can start behind the scenes then try out for a small part. As skills develop, the parts can increase to where you are creating characters. There are many opportunities in Warren Co. to learn as an actor. Being on stage is make believe, yet the skills and character formation are not. We all can do our part for ourselves to not lose such important human communication.