Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Power of the Professor

The difference between the sports world and the artistic world is the teachers. Couches are constantly pushing athletics to do "110%," egging them on, demanding them to be the best they can be. Artistic teachers are constantly saying, "stick with what you're good at."

Whenever anyone says that you don't have what it takes, they're not being honest. They're being many things, but its not a declaration of reality.

This saying grinds me, mostly due to the frequency I hear it. Mostly coming from professors. Everyone who's been in the art world long enough has been told either this or one of its many forms, to the extent that they, of course, have been hurt by it. Some don't get past it. Some do and the next time they can ignore it, but it is an idea that remains resentful in them for the rest of their life.

My boyfriend wants to be an actor. He had been going to the university for four years now, preparing his senior thesis, getting ready to graduate, when he gets called in by the head of the department to tell him that he should be the stage manager for the next show. Now anyone who's done educational theatre knows this really means "I don't want to cast you." The conversation goes on and the professor goes about in his usual manner in which he attempts to discuss the student's future. Being a very bitter man in the throes of his third midlife crisis, he has this very bad habit of, well, trying to talk you out of whatever it is you want to do. He proceeds to condemn the student for not going to the Acting Conservatory in England during his junior year, claiming that it shows that the actor doesn't have the ambition to really commit to his art.

(This "Acting Conservatory is a full year course in which British students go to learn acting, and our department had a connection with them which allows some of our students to go there.) Of course, the real reason why he's mad is because no one wanted to go the year before or this year, and he is blaming the students.

It sounds like a good deal, but I'd like to point out that the reason why the option is no longer available is because they finally got accredited recently.

Anyway, the professor finally actually says the words, "If you can be discourage, you should be. And if you can't, you're wrong."

This was not Boyfriend's first tango, however, and he left, turning down the admirable offer of being the director's manservant and didn't take the whole thing seriously.

He had been long before told many other worse things, the priority of which being that he could never be a lead. The reason? And I quote: "Blonde hair is too hard to light on stage."

The students at this university have been told a thousand times that they could not play an ingenue, that they "weren't ready yet," that they can't direct, that they should consider a different career path, and that they couldn't do anything until they've taken the class. A friend of mine had one of our professors ask if she'd lost weight. When she had said yes, he said, "Well, you should get all kinds of leads now."

Many people believe that this is doing the students a favor. Telling someone they're not good at something is helping them to not waste their time. I say this is bullshit.

There is no such thing as being so bad at something you can't get better.

It is easier to teach someone who is really bad then those who are mediocre. The only thing that stands in a student's way is her desire to learn. This isn't math we're dealing with; they're there because they want to be. If they want to be actors, they want to learn, even if they don't think they have to.

And no one who ever says, "You should go into another field," is ever saying it to be "helpful." I mean never. Absolutely never. Even if you are the most terrible writer in the world, a teacher who likes you will still try to help. If he tells a student that she sucks, he has another agenda in mind. She may be bad, she may need a great deal more work than anyone else, but he still has to have it out for her to want her to stop trying.

You can say what you want about being honest, but demoralizing will never prevent them from making a mistake.