Theatrics


This past weekend I performed as part of the Arena Fair Theater production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I haven’t done anything similar since I was a child and played the part of Tiny Tim in a community theater production of A Christmas Carol. It was truly a blast to sing and dance on the stage in the lights for family, friends, and community members. The fresh experience and getting to perform in our Chappelear Drama Center got me thinking about technology in theater and how theater relates to teaching, fascinating subjects to contemplate.

I don’t know a lot about technology used in drama. I got to thinking about this when I setup a BishopGuest wireless account for the troupe. I can see all the lights on the stages and the wireless microphones used on the cast with solos. I also got to ride a couple times the elevator-like lift that creates an organ pit in front of the main stage. These are all examples of modern technology–as well as the sound system and the Music Director’s synthesizer–used in modern drama, much as dry erase white boards and electronic projectors are used in modern teaching. The Stage Manager and I weren’t sure how wireless Internet access might be used by a theater troupe other than members of the cast checking email and Facebook during breaks and intermission. This would be a topic–how Internet and Web 2.0 technology is used in theatrics nowadays–that I would love to learn more of. I plan to continue in any production Arena Fair has in the future, so I’m sure there will be opportunities to ask around.

The other topic of reflection is the similarities between theater and teaching. Both convey a story or a message. I imagine some faculty might quibble and say that they are imparting facts and principles. I would counter that with the notion that (at least at the college level) we’re trying to get students to synthesize knowledge into wisdom. Thesis and antithesis can be seen as tandem heroes in an adventure story; their working together results in something larger than the sum of its parts that is the climax of the story. In Biology there are stories of evolution and stories of cells that have a birth, a lifespan, and a death. In Mathematics, I just learned that the term Algebra comes from the Arabic al-jabr which was originally used to indicate restoration in a medical sense. So Algebra is the science of restoring equations back to balance. What a story! When educators share such stories with their students, it has a natural effect of drawing the learner into the subject. We are the result of and unconscious participants in evolution; our bodies are elaborate networks of cells; and we are the (in many cases ignorant) beneficiaries of Arabic civilization. In other words, we are part of the story. Good pedagogy should be just as absorbing and inspiring as good theater.

On a related note, there is much talk lately about digital storytelling, especially in higher ed, and Bryan Alexander from NITLE has just published a book about it. I feel it all relates together: teaching, drama, storytelling, as strands of thread or yarn in a loom.

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