Lighting 2: Shadow Project, Kelsey Keckler, LD
It is my goal in my teaching to look for and develop the potential of each student. Through practical and creative projects, I move students through an exploration of their talents, and help them to comprehend what effort needs to be put forth in order to reach their full potential. In order to help each student meet their goals, I prioritize critical thinking, time management, creative expression, communication, and presentation skills. When students effectively combine these skills, they are prepared to function successfully in academic and professional theatre settings. As a teacher of theatre, it is my responsibility to effectively prepare students for what will be expected of them in educational theatre, and to prepare them to make the transition into the world beyond their BA. I accomplish this three ways: in the classroom, through mentoring, and through career counseling. All three are important parts of my teaching philosophy.
Teaching and Classroom Work:
My teaching journey with the student begins in the classroom; in this setting, I feel it is important for my expectations to be both clear and high. A theatre student should learn early on that, in the area of design and technology, much will be expected of them, and expectations of perfection will always exist. I bring into the classroom my own real-world experience, and teach each class from that perspective.
In Stage Management class, I lead the students through the process of stage management as if we, as a class, have just been hired for the job of stage manager on a professional production. I provide precise examples of the presentation styles of the paperwork of an experienced, working stage manager. I then encourage students to create their own style. Each student produces work at a professional level while also beginning a journey toward his or her own contribution to the field. In addition, I select readings from the most up-to-date books and articles, while also giving respect and attention to the history of the field. These readings are designed to reinforce the lecture material, provide context for the development of stage management, and also give current professional examples of problem-solving techniques. Technology is always advancing in the world of stage management, and I want my students to be prepared to oversee any production from an intimate two-person show in a small blackbox to a mega-musical on Broadway. A young stage manager will one day have the welfare and safety of a cast of actors in their hands. Our journey as teacher and student is about making sure that they have the tools and the skills needed to complete that task with success.
Lighting Design students have a different journey as they work toward becoming designers. I firmly believe that the foundation of creative expression in design comes from the experience of each individual. In order to create light, you must learn to see and experience light. Then, using critical thinking skills, you must be able to communicate that experience into a creative expression using technology combined with conceptual thinking about the content, action and theme of a play. I use other art forms to develop the student's perceptions of light. For example, an early project presented is “The Artist.” Each student is given the name of an artist. They must then research that artist and create a fact sheet about the artist to present to the class. The student provides examples of the artist's work and as a class we discuss the art and the use of light within the art. The student then uses the light lab to theatrically create the mood of a chosen piece of art in three-dimensional space, from page to stage. The class discusses how well the painting's mood is captured, discussing color, angle, intensity and movement.
To develop the student's own conceptual voice, I expand “The Artist” project into a study of what I call the psychology of light. In the “Shadow Project,” each student is given one of the seven deadly sins. Using one actor the student must light that actor in any pose or series of poses. The designer must communicate the sin to the class using only a visual vocabulary. The student is responsible for controlling one of the shadows of the piece. They must explain how, psychologically, the shadow adds understanding and clarity to the sin. These two projects work toward helping the student to understand how light perception, combined with the text of the script leads to the execution of a successful lighting design. This must be coupled with the teaching of the highly technical aspects of lighting design and computer lighting programming. Students must understand that they will become artists who create with the use of technology. It is critical to make them comprehend that their level of competence with this technology will determine their success.
Mentoring, Production Work and the World after the BA
Mentoring starts in the classroom. In all fields of theatre study, skills of collaboration and communication are of major importance, since theatre is, by its very nature, a collaborative art form. Unlike other art forms, the creation of a theatrical designers art relies on the work of others. Students must develop ways of working with each other toward the common goal of the production. One of the keys to success will be their style of communication, both on the interpersonal level as well as with the production team as a whole. My teaching reflects that for each course. Group projects are often utilized to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and collaboration. My observation of these projects enables me to analyze the communication process of the students, and point out where weakness and strength lie. With this knowledge I can lead the students toward developing a strong and accurate communication style.
After the completion of a course, the students and I then move into a more formal mentoring relationship. The student gets on-the-job training as well as continued instruction. They are assigned to a fully realized project within the Theatre Arts department. This assignment is given based on the quality of their classroom work; those that meet or exceed expectations will receive an assignment that reflects that. Those students who had difficulties will receive an assignment that will help to move them through those difficulties. The area of mentorship is one where, as an instructor, I must stay keenly attuned to each student. Students, who may not have shown all of their potential in the classroom, will often, in the process of this hands-on environment, exhibit a new side and a clearer path to their promise. In light of the newfound promise and (often) motivation that comes from production work, together the student and I re-evaluate their course work to help them find the balance that is needed for a successful academic career.
Regular feedback is key to furthering the student's progress toward growth. The measurement of the outcome for each student in the classroom is laid out at the start of each project or assignment. The student must produce at the expected level, as well as demonstrate progress at working towards a professional and polished product that is portfolio worthy. Their course work is evaluated at the entry-level professional standard. However, within the production process, a student's work is evaluated at a higher level of professional experience. Students are expected to take the classroom experience and add to that work enabling them to produce professional level work. Weekly mentoring meetings help to keep students on track and ensure that the quality of their work remains high. Within artistic aspects of Lighting Design, the evaluation of the student is based on how successful they have been at meeting the needs of the production on stage. Each production is led by a director who communicates the standards for the production. Therefore, as a mentor, I must evaluate the interpretation and execution of a design based on the information and direction the student is given.
The final step of the journey for each student is guidance through the process of acquiring employment in the area of theatre or entrance into a graduate program. To do this, we work together on the resume and portfolio, putting together a package that can be sent to potential employers or to graduate schools. I also work with the students on research skills that will give them the abilities to find the jobs or schools that will be best to get them started on their career path.
The teaching of theatre is both exhilarating and rewarding for me. Students often select a major or minor in theatre without a clear understanding of how the field of theatre functions. It is a thrilling task to show them the possibilities within the profession. Watching students with talent and passion work toward making this occupation their own brings me great joy. It is fulfilling to observe students, with intensity and certainty, pursue a career in theatre. Teaching in a field where practical, realized work is produced by students is a unique and rewarding occurrence; I see first-hand how my classroom structure impacts the applied work of a student. I often use the word “potential” with my students, as I want them to understand that a quest toward a career is a marathon not a sprint. Those with the courage to seek their potential will have the most success. My finest days of teaching are when a student rises to the occasion of the situation at hand and conquers a fear or obstacle. Teaching in the field of art, watching students gain confidence and strength, while also impacting humanity -- it is a true privilege.