What If…Theatre Training Were More International?

by Jim Hart

in What If

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Pictured: Story of a Mother (c) Jim Hart
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What if theatre training were more international?

What if we taught our student theatre artists to have a wider directional perspective in terms of what theatre is? Rather than focusing nearly entirely on Western theatrical forms of past and present, a common approach in programs across the country, what if we turned an equal eye towards international works and forms of theatre? Doing so, we can lead our student artists towards a global perspective as to what theatre is, rather than an almost exclusive Western perspective. With such a wider directional perspective, one has a larger range of inspiration from which to create.

So many visionaries have been inspired by theatre abroad–Julie Taymor, Peter Brook, Andre Belgrader, just to name a few. However, one need not necessarily travel around the world, diving into foreign cultures to gain inspiration beyond realism and western theatrical traditions, as rich as such experiences can be. Such inspiration can be found in the classroom, in studios and on stage.

For example, what if we turned our students’ attentions towards Japan and Bunraku, Noh, Butoh or Kabuki? What if we also turned their eyes towards Balinese Topeng Dance of Indonesia (Masked Balinese dance drama) or Kathakali of India, Commedia dell’Arte of Italy and Biomechanics of Russia? What our students will likely find is that in nearly all cases, these sometimes ancient forms were inspired by other forms. Often visionaries are inspired by, more or less, the same forms. Ex. Commedia dell’ Arte and Chinese Opera are common inspirations.

In the Beginning Directed by Jim Hart at TITAN Teaterskole in Oslo

If one understands aesthetics or forms, can identify what makes a form unique, what the vocabulary is and how it is built, one can, theoretically, build forms. But it is not enough to build form for form’s sake. One can see such examples the world over–leading to theatre that is empty of substance and sometimes “weird for the sake of weird”. Such can lead to deadly theatre. Rather, if one understands how forms are built and has an international range of inspiration from which to draw–international theatre forms of past and present, one has a greater range of expression and more tools with which to create.

If our graduates understand what theatre is to various cultures around the world–whether it be purely entertainment, political, ritualistic or spiritually based (theatre of need), they have a deeper understanding of potential, of their craft and their place within it. Such a deeper understanding can help these artists define for themselves what theatre is. How they choose to answer that question will shape the type of artist they become.

But learning such forms from a book or lecture is, I believe, not the answer. Classrooms across the nation are putting students to sleep with such an approach. Perhaps a better way is to enable students to experience such forms directly. If one experiences the vocabulary of a form and its potential for expression, one then understands it on an experiential level and not just intellectually.

The point is not to master Balinese Topeng dance, but to gain inspiration. The point is to have a wider directional perspective, a global perspective, as to what theatre is, what it has been for eons and what it might be tomorrow.

Artists create from what they know or have experienced in some measure. With more artists graduating with a global perspective on theatre and an experiential knowledge of forms, what new forms might arise?

Forms are tools. The greater talent one has, the more technique one needs, for technique liberates art. Inspiration can lead to vision. Vision can lead to new means of expression (forms) and sometimes new forms can lead to new movements. With more artists graduating training programs with an experientially based global perspective on theatre, no doubt we educators and directors will promote change. Such change might even aide in reinventing theatre as we understand it and inspire present and future artists today and for generations to come.

Story of a Mother (c) Jim Hart Directed by Jim Hart

American born artist Jim Hart is the founder and Rector of The International Theatre Academy Norway, based in Oslo, Norway. To read more of Hart’s posts, see Hart’s first TCG “What if” article HERE.

Jim Hart can be reached at www.titanteaterskole.no

  • http://www.amyjaneludwigsen.tumblr.com Amy Ludwigsen

    I am currently finishing up my Master’s Degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama- soon to be the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad and be exposed to so many various forms of theater from practitioners that work all over Europe. The academy provides opportunities to work with instructors from Russia, Poland, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

    I am grateful to have a more comprehensive view of how theater is made and received outside of the United States. And that perspective comes from first hand experience rather than an article or essay written by a tutor/working professional in Europe. This was a wonderful article and I strongly consider students to look outside of the states for further theater training- especially in the fields of physical and devised theater!
    Amy J Ludwigsen
    MA- Classical and Contemporary Text- Acting
    Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama

  • http://actorsgreenroom.net Kate Foy

    University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance has a long history of training and educating its students in the history, theory and practice of various traditional and contemporary Asian theatre forms. As a graduate myself, this exposure and training has resulted in the development and delivery of ‘World Theatre’ history courses at the university Theatre Department in which I worked. The sudent’s experience of training and performing in a performance form under master teachers, who are brought from various Asian countries each year by UHM, is never forgotten.