This semester I transferred to a new university. Career-wise I don’t really need a degree, but immigration-wise I need to attend school full time to remain in Canada. So, on a whim, I decided that it’d be fun to study theatre. I enrolled in a course of study that my University calls “Performance Creation.” The program combines different elements of theatre into a nice little bundle that they have the audacity to call education.
Never in my life have I spent so much time running around a room screaming as I have in the past 3 months. Just to clarify, this was not a stress relief method that I employed to cope with the rigors of the program. It was the program, the go-to method for acting, research, and analysis. I paid a semester’s worth of tuition to run around a room and scream.
To be fair, my professors did try to impart their knowledge. This semester, I learned about human body parts, their meanings and how to use them.
From the twelve lectures that I attended in my “Arts Across the Disciplines” course, I learned one thing and one thing only. In the middle of a lecture, my professor showed us a painting of a bare foot. He said, “Students, look at the toes. Toes are a phallic symbol.” It was true enlightenment, a conclusion that I would have never reached on my own, because nothing about a toe makes me think “dick”.
The next day I had my acting class at 8:30 in the morning. We were running around screaming, an activity that we perform barefoot, and let me tell you, I was seeing everyone’s toes in a very different light. At least until the professor gave me something entirely different to think about. “Raise one limb,” he instructed, “Now a second, third, fourth.” We all did as he commanded, because we’re basically cattle. “And now a fifth,”he said. The room went still. I, for one, was thoroughly confused. 95% of the students in that class are girls, therefore 95% of us don’t exactly have a fifth appendage. And why are all my professors obsessed with everything phallic? I settled for raising a finger. “Now a sixth limb” he demanded to everyone’s shock. I raised another finger, deciding that he had to be testing us. Humans only have four limbs. “You are all wrong” our professor informed us, “Biologically speaking, humans have six limbs, but we often forget about our heads and our tailbones.” I don’t know why anyone would ever study anatomy when they can study theatre instead.
Two of our “six” limbs are arguably more useful than the rest – these are our arms, which more often than not, end in hands. Hands are powerful communicative tools. However, it’s important to realize how traditional hand gestures come across to others. In one of my courses we were taught that clapping is not always appropriate at the end of a performance. Apparently, clapping is not even a true form of appreciation. In fact, appreciation is its own action…who knew? It consists of rubbing one’s hands together, vigorously. When discussing or covering material on sensitive topics we weren’t allowed to clap, only appreciate, lest we offend.
All this knowledge about the human body taught me to be self aware. Do my movements reflect my emotions? Are they appropriate in the context? Do my character’s objectives come across clearly in my physical portrayal? And more importantly, in real life how does my personality come across to others? In theatre courses, the professors can and will hold your personality against you. In my design class, both my friend and I were making wire trees. Our professor, an elderly man, indicated my friend’s tree and declared, “That looks like a uterus.” He then zeroed in on my tree: “Very nice,” he said, “your tree does not look like a uterus.”
“Gee” I said, laughing, “That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s said to me all day.”
He blinked at me in surprise. “You know,” he told me, “I thought that you were a really nice and quiet girl, but you’re actually a total smart-ass.”
“Yeah I’m not really all that quiet,” I said, wondering what exactly had made me appear so.
Here’s the thing though, we presented projects to this professor all throughout the semester and he never once wrote anything down, not our names, not our presentation topics, nothing. He didn’t even keep any of our presentation materials. So how does he remember everyone’s grades? When we were presenting our final projects, someone finally asked him.
“I remember your grades because they correlate with your personalities,”he told us.
I thought about how he had completely misdiagnosed my personality earlier in the semester. “But what if you don’t like our personality?” I wondered…
…out loud. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, and it did not go over well. In fact, he was quite offended, which may or may not have impacted my final grade for the course. So I guess I also learned to keep my mouth shut?
It all boils down to connectivity really–with oneself and with others. Basically, theatre is a very spiritual artform. Not only do courses encourage you to summon deep and dark feelings, but you’ll have to perform rituals, like a cult. In my performance creation course each class opened and closed with a ritual. The closing ritual was the worst. It consisted of the following steps:
- Stand in a circle with your hands on each others’ backs.
- Breath in the people around you. Supposedly, it’s very possible to breath someone up your nose, although I have not yet mastered this particular skill.
- Lift your hands above your head, twinkling your fingers. Rain them down to the ground following with your body until you are in a squatting position, perfect for tinkling if you’re a girl.
- Tap your fingers on the floor to create the sound of rain as members of the group shout out what they took away from the nonexistent lesson. Good examples include “cult,” and “cult.”
- Scoop it – “it” being the words – up as a cohesive unit. As one, rise to a standing position and release “it” into the air.
There’s no denying that I learned a lot from University, Take 2. But the principal lesson was this: run. Running and screaming is all well and good, but I’d also like to learn something. I dropped all of my theatre courses for next semester, trading them out for somewhat more promising options. Let’s gear up for University, Take 3.
Photo Credits: Peter Lewicki at Unsplash.com