SDC Journal Summer 2016

Page 50

Favorite Teaching Materials: Women Leading KEVIN J. WETMORE, JR. LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY

Every spring I teach a course entitled “Surviving as an Artist” for actors, designers, and directors, designed to get them thinking about life after graduation and the first five years of their post-college career in the arts. While we read some “practical” material on the various unions, headshots, and resumes, how to get work in the field, etc., I also have the students read Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist. Smith gets them thinking about being an artist not just in terms of the practical realities, but also in terms of the fear, alienation, triumphs, support, jealousy, and other issues that flow through every professional artist’s life. She writes as a teacher and mentor, but also as a working artist still dealing with all the things that they deal with and will deal with so long as they are in the business. She shares her own experiences, including the ups and downs of her work on The West Wing, and (for my money, the best part of the book) her going out on auditions and still not getting the parts after that. Smith shares an anecdote of auditioning for a Queen Latifah film and finding the experience demoralizing. “I think a truly brilliant auditioner could turn that around. I was unable to” (92). What follows, however, is neither self defeat nor a pep talk about auditioning or how fortunate she is. Instead, Smith continues with a discussion on auditioning from the other side of the table, discussing authority and play. In subsequent chapters she quotes from Camus, ruminates on Miles Davis, discusses Jessye Norman, and shares both the photographs of Lyle Ashton Harris and her own experience performing Twilight Los Angeles 1992 in front of then-President Clinton and at the Market




Given this gender disparity, I use Kyna Hamill’s They Fight: Classical to Contemporary Stage Fight Scenes, a collection of 43 scenes divided into 4 categories: fights for 2 men, fights for 2 women, fights for 1 man and 1 woman, and fights for groups of 3 or more. The volume goes from medieval mystery plays through the late 90s, with special attention paid to subjects including scenes for women and diverse weaponry. I have students select their scenes from the volume, but I also have them read the whole book, cover to cover. Given that my classes in stage combat tend to be female-dominant, Hamill’s volume is useful as a resource for demonstrating a number of texts that feature women fighting as women, for providing raw material for staged violent scene work, and for providing a model for women in stage combat. It is my hope that in addition to its practical value, the volume might inspire some of my female students to pursue stage combat choreography.

c/o University of Illinois Press

I also teach a stage combat class in which students learn to incorporate technique to simulate violence into visual storytelling. I teach them as actors, but talk a good deal about my work as a choreographer and fight director. The Society of American Fight Directors has one woman among 17 fight masters. Out of 45 fight directors, three are women; and out of 145 certified teachers, many of whom work at colleges and universities, 20 are female. Dueling Arts International, another professional association of fight choreographers and teachers, has 11 women among its 45 instructors. Though I am a proud member of both organizations, I recognize that every time I teach the class, the majority of students are women, and the majority of those teaching and fight directing professionally are men.



c/o Anchor Books

Theatre in South Africa. Her references to acting are framed as part of her larger discussion of being a young artist; there is material here for writers, directors, choreographers, and visual artists (indeed, the young artist of the title is a painter!). Smith encourages the reader to think about the process of the art, but also being an artist, working in collaboration with others or alone. While she occasionally mentions specific challenges arising out of gender, the book is mostly concerned with any artist, regardless of gender.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Using International Women Stage Directors in the Directing Classroom EMILY A. ROLLIE CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

As a director, I love watching other directors work. There is much to be gleaned from observing directors at work in the rehearsal hall or on stage; through these observations, I find inspiration and ways to deepen my own work. Thus, as a teacher of directing, I ask my students to not only reflect on their directorial work but also explore the work of other professional directors. While most directing assignments provide hands-on directing experience, I also ask my students to research a professional director—ideally one with whom the student is not previously familiar. After selecting a director, students explore that director and her work, identifying artistic approach and aesthetic tendencies, noting representative productions, and considering how surrounding socio-cultural contexts shape artistic work. The students then present their findings to the class, exposing all students to an array of directorial styles and inspirations. When initially presented with this assignment, choruses of “But where do I learn about other directors?” often erupt, as most students are uncertain where to begin. While texts such as Shomit Mitter and Maria Shevtsova’s Fifty Key Theatre Directors or Shevtsova and Christopher Innes’s Directors/Directing exist, most of those texts primarily feature men. As a feminist director and teacher, I find these male-centered narratives limiting and subsequently have sought other resources to offer my students, specifically two texts by Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow: International Women Stage Directors (2013) and American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century (2008). Of the two, International Women Stage Directors

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