Nice Place You've Got Here . . .


" . . . lots of space . . ."

I have rarely been so tempted by the university setting as when I arrived at Swarthmore College yesterday. In fact, I'm a little frustrated by their website. If I ran things there (and just give me time) there'd be a gallery devoted to the scenery. It was misty, gray and generally chilly out, and I was still blown away by lovely architecture, a long, green lawn, and it was all backed up by forest that descended to a river valley. Gorgeous. I arrived a bit early, and walked about, checking things out. In my brief progress, I found an enormous amphitheatre built into the forest, stone walling etching out green lawned levels, studded with 150-year-old oak trees here and there. Took my breath away with theatrical possibilities. I was a little disappointed not to be working there, even given the nasty weather.

Then I found the space in which we would be working.

Tarble Hall is a movement-studio-slash-performance-space within Clothier Hall, which appears to be a converted church space, complete with monk's walk surrounding a small courtyard, a bell tower, and of course a worship space. Well, where they put us was in the worship space -- twelve feet up. The space has been converted in such a way that a movement floor was put in right about where the large ceiling begins to angle steeply together, replete with ornately carved beams and arches. Below it is an access hallway to the other rooms off the ground floor of the main building. The effect is rather like one is in a long, ample movement studio suspended in space. The floor was well-sprung, and it was rigged for performances at either end or, really, wherever you felt like it. Some spaces invite you to perform, to fill them out with motion. This was such a place, in spades. I was awed.

And, I'm afraid that probably showed through in my teaching. It wasn't exactly a bad class, but it definitely wasn't my best. I had some trouble holding everything together with 22 students, giving them both an overview and a practical approach to commedia dell'arte. It was partly awe, partly the weather and partly travel fatigue. And, as I say, it wasn't a bad class. It was just that at times I thought to myself, "You know, this has felt much more intense and cool before...." That having been said, I think everyone had fun and learned a little something. About midway through, I broke out the "tag trick" to wake everyone up a bit. The tag trick is to convince everyone that you are about to do an exercise that is very serious and requires a lot of concentration, then tag someone and tell them they're "it." It usually serves to get people laughing at themselves a bit. I usually fail to keep a sufficient deadpan for the set-up, and this class was no exception.

All in all, it was an interesting dynamic with this class. I spent a lot of time considering how to loosen them up, and I'm not sure that I was altogether successful. I think I would have benefited from giving them a few more opportunities to perform. They certainly responded well to what opportunities I did manage to give them. If I ever return, I'll put more emphasis on outlining ideas, then asking them to take the ball and run. That's my preferred way of working anyway; if I was more didactic this time, it had everything to do with being excited to have authentic commedia dell'arte training to draw from since working with Angelo Crotti.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the class, actually, occurred during break. One of the students was working on a handstand, and I coached him a bit, encouraging him to try for alignment rather than arching his back for balance. Another student joined in as I was explaining the importance of pushing up through the upper palm, and they both noticed considerable improvement in their ability to stick it. I think this was the best moment of me and students meeting halfway in our enthusiasm and focus, and I relished it. I wrote not too long ago (see 4/13/09) about the value in inviting people to learn, instead of requiring it, and learning to invite in as compelling a way as possible. I'm enjoying working on that skill, be it in a rather run-down office, or the most beautiful movement space I've ever before seen.
 
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