Friday, November 21, 2014

Growing Up Drago

When I was a kid in the 70's, my mom was the household teacher and my dad the household preacher.  Mom taught the three of us how to function.  This is how you tie your shoes, comb your hair, brush your teeth, sit at the dinner table, use a fork, read, write, talk on the phone, use a pair of scissors (probably why I use the right-handed ones), do laundry, clean the house, and everything else.  I know it couldn't have been easy on her.  Sometimes I felt like she was teaching my dad those things, too.

But Dad was our Benjamin Franklin.  Hard to believe, I know.  He had his own Poor Johnny's Almanack and was always spouting life lessons. Education Comes First (declared in his thick Brooklyn accent as foist)!  Most remarkable because he didn't last very long in school.  His mom would drop him off at the front door, and he'd go straight through (read as tru) the school and out the backdoor.  That's all right, though.  You always knew he had a quest for knowledge.  Still does.  You find it in the way he spends hours watching the news or anything on the History, Discovery, and National Geographic channels.  And in the way he busts his grandchildren's chops about teaching him how to use his iPod or Kindle.  (He's not allowed to get a laptop - we're all afraid he might toss it out the window or tear it apart.)  Some of his other aphorisms included:  Driving Is A Serious Business (I'm capitalizing these because he's very loud), Leave Well Enough Alone, Keep Your Family In Front Of You, You Wanna Fuck Up Your Life, Do Drugs.  He also had his funny ones.  Don't Lie To Me - Lie To Girls.  Not quite Abe Lincoln, but we got the gist.

Our home was filled with music.  And it was always played loud.  50's rock-n-roll.  Doo Wop, mostly.  Plenty of Elvis.  They had a cabinet full of '45's.  This was their escape.  Ours too.  We could get lost in the world of rhythm and blues.  Bounce to a backbeat.  Do cartwheels across the living room floor aboard the Woo Woo Train like it was our own Promised Land.  Those are the times that are the most meaningful now that I look back.  Makes me wish we never left New York, really.

We always had people over.  Friends, family, neighbors.  Our house was packed and busy.  I feel guilty about this last part now that I'm a parent.  Our home is usually quiet and empty.  Still as warm, just smaller somehow.  We don't have many guests and certainly don't see our friends and family as often as we'd like.  Forget about seeing the neighbors.  This is the 21st century, after all.  I could blame our move across country, but I'm not sure how much we'd see our family and friends if we'd stayed.  Life's not like that anymore.  People are connected in different ways.  We text and make Facebook posts.  I guess it's nice to know you're thought of.  Just not as fun.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Best Lesson

I had one of those on Friday.  One of those classes where I was firing on all cylinders; the students were focused and making everything happen just as I planned.  Always a good feeling.  Makes me proud that after 23 years in front of the classroom, I can still bring it.  Here's how it went down.

I started the group with warmups.  It's always a good idea to breathe and stretch before you do anything.  Clears the mind, relaxes the body.  We did a few exercises for energy.  Passing an imaginary ball around an imaginary track.  Stealing each other's spot in the circle.  Moving in the space.  Filling the space.  Creating our own worlds.  What I'm best at.  Then we partnered up.  Had the students discuss the key elements of the lesson before a group review.  Objectives, Motivation, Obstacles, Tactics, Status, Subtext.  These are the things that make actors tick.  You gotta know what you want.  Why you want it.  Know what's in your way and how the fuck to get around it.  We did a water bottle demonstration to emphasize the point.  Blindfolded a couple of students and had them crawl around for it.  Create their own circumstances.  Who are you?  Where are you?  Why do you want what you're after?  Simple but effective.  Engaging and fun.  Especially when one of the students kept smacking the bottle away from herself.  That happens so often in life, doesn't it?  We're always pushing what we want just beyond our reach.

Then things got real.  Today, when I asked the students what their favorite part of the lesson was, that's how one girl described it.  When things got real.  I faced off the partners and told them to pursue two specific objectives.  First, get your partner to face the truth.  Then make her take a risk.  Then do both at the same time.  The trick here is to talk to your partner as if she's someone you really know.  As if she's someone you're really trying to make face the facts or take a chance.  Stepped up everyone's game.  You wouldn't believe the fucking energy in the room.  Gave me chills.  And this is a first-year acting group!  They were amazing!  Laughter, tears, silence, noise.  Every response you could ask for.

We wrapped up with a few improv games before closure.  I told them that they had given me exactly what I wanted.  Then asked what they'd learned about themselves.  Sum it up in one key word.  That's all they got.  Every student had an answer.  Perfect.  For the record, I borrowed from Stanislavski, Spolin, Meisner, Tom McNally, Hope Love, and every other acting coach I've ever had.  No one person makes this shit up.  The point is this.  If you're a teacher, use what works.  Take this fucking lesson from me!  Own it.  You need to know you can make a difference.  Fuck all the other bullshit.