Back now from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) annual conference, plus the Association for Theatre Movement Educators (ATME) pre-conference (which only happens every two years). All in all, it was a great experience. I found many kindred spirits and what I can only think of as wise elders of my tribe at the ATME pre-conference, all of whom were very welcoming and encouraging. ATME is also very experiential, both in their workshops and their participatory group structure. ATHE was subject to some of the usual academic conference paper-reading, which can be great if it’s a good paper, a good reader, and an interesting discussion to follow… or can be less so if any one of those three conditions isn’t met.

I presented as a part of an ATME-sponsored panel on physical dramaturgy, which was very well received. I enjoyed discussions, new script readings, workshops and panels in everything from Biomechanics to thanotourism. I also paid a bit extra for the master class by Irina and Paata of Synetic Theatre.

From Synetic’s “King Arthur”

Their workshop was fascinating on a meta-level; both have amazing physical control and skills, but apart from trying to make my body isolate in ways it hasn’t ever been asked to do, what I found most fascinating was just thinking about them as a last generation of artists from a vanished paradigm. Both are products of the former Soviet training programs, and had been drilled in these skills since they could count their age on their hands and still have fingers left to salute with. Much like the Chinese Opera training systems that folks like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung grew up in, these systems were abusive by modern western sensibilities, but they certainly produced impressive results, whether in terms of Olympic athletes, martial arts performers, or ballerinas.

Now, how much of this translates in to creative work (as differentiated from virtuosity) is up for debate, as both that and the more self-motivated inspiration + commercial funding paradigm of America have produced their fair share of creative leaders, but the States do seem to be the more desirable destination; Irina and Paata dreamed of coming here and starting up their own company, and they’re now living that dream – far from the Soviet Georgia in which they met. But I doubt that many people (if anyone) training for their own intrinsic motivation will ever work as hard as someone whose government is forcing them to work as hard as they possibly can. As one of my graduate instructors is proud of pointing out, the stick is a perfectly valid motivator of learning – just not legal in our current system. Granted, he also points out that grad students don’t even need a carrot or stick from the teacher – they’re plenty self-motivated by the need to find work, and will generally learn from, or even in spite of, the teacher.
It was also interesting to see the difference in students presenting who came across as… well, studently, for lack of a better term- and those who presented in a more professorial manner, either through earning the title or being better at pretending. I’m glad to feel like I’m now feeling at home amongst the latter, and to have that reaffirmed by others. One of the others on my panel was a professor I had for my first two years of undergraduate theatre back at Earlham College – she’s been at San Diego for the ensuing sixteen years, and I hadn’t seen her since.

So in keeping of the rhythm of jo-ha-kyu, we have the MFA, two years + in the making, the SAFD Teacher Cert (longer in the making but) three weeks in the realization, the conference of one week… but instead of an ending, now a beginning: a Fall semester including teaching as an adjunct at the College of William & Mary and John Tyler Community College, teaching at local theatres, at least three very likely video gigs, and more.




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