Friday, August 18, 2017

Leaning In to Shakespeare Intensive for Teens

Lean in.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard those two little words in the last four weeks. My Teaching Artists used them to encourage students to embrace the final few days of SIT or to beg a teenager to take a note and run with it. I, personally, muttered them under my breath whenever I had to teach on the fly. To me, “Lean in” totally encapsulates the spirit of SIT: remain open to others and to the work, and embrace whatever comes up.

As the intern for the June session of SIT, I spent four weeks assisting the incomparable Dani Heard and Chris Rushing in simultaneously teaching classes and directing a production of Twelfth Night with thirteen teenagers (oof). In SIT, words like “good,” “bad,” and “Sorry!” simply don’t fly. SIT asks teenagers to recognize and name every emotion, not just “happy.” That’s a tall order for anyone, let alone teenagers. To me, SIT’s goal is to encourage students to put themselves into the work. That means no backing up, no apologizing, no hiding behind punchlines, and no deflector shields. Rather than say “Stop being closed off!,” Dani and Chris would encourage students to “LEAN IN.” Lean in, whether that means lean into physical openness, lean into breathing deeply, or lean into vulnerability. Lean in, both to supporting fellow cast members and to having fun. Don’t just take a note, EMBRACE the note! Be inspired by the spirit of the work, lean in, and HAVE FUN!

Along the way, I learned that telling students to lean in and be open while simultaneously judging my own actions as a teacher was pretty hypocritical of me. While I had a decent amount of Shakespeare and acting experience, I hadn’t ever formally taught anyone. That changed rapidly. I led a section of warm-ups on the first day of SIT and on just about every subsequent day. Dani and Chris encouraged me to offer feedback on scene work and monologues routinely, and I led a number of acting or movement exercises I’d encountered in my own training. The first few days of SIT, I found myself criticizing my ideas or actions quite a bit. I realized that I couldn’t exactly point emphatically at the anti-sorry sign 10 times a day if I wasn’t going to forgive myself for my own slip-ups. Once I started to forgive myself a little more, I was able to really throw myself into the work. Towards the end of the program, I led a two-hour workshop on Michael Chekhov’s acting technique. I was honestly terrified to teach such a long workshop; I’d studied Chekhov over the course of a few productions at school, but I’d definitely never taught it. The technique is largely movement and imagination-based, and I was petrified that they wouldn’t like anything we did, or that I would lead them wrong somehow. However, all the students embraced the exercises and made gradually bolder choices over the course of the workshop. Their ability to lean into the work encouraged me to lean into trusting myself.

Overall, SIT has taught me that I will never be done leaning in. At the beginning of the program, I thought that confidence and excitement would make me a great teacher. Working with Dani, Chris, and the students showed me that, while confidence and excitement are fantastic sources of energy, encouraging teenagers to lean in is a lot more successful when you’re living your own words. Getting teenagers to stand still, make eye contact, and be vulnerable is so much easier when you’re opening yourself up to them. Who knew?

By Delaney Clark, Summer 2018 Shakespeare Intensive For Teens Intern

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