Category Archives: Education & Miseducation

Life and times in college, as student or teacher.

Thinking about Theater in Terms of Negotiated Agency

As I was skimming thru the Internet I came across this blog post and thought it was very interesting. Of course because of who I am, I looked at what she was saying thru the lens of theater. It is by Nina Simon, who runs the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

She quotes the creator of Sim City who said: “Game players have a negotiated agency that is determined by how the game is designed.”  The term negotiated agency means a set of rules that decides how much freedom of choice they have to engage the game. Which immediately brought to mind the idea of theatrical conventions and the ‘rules of the game’ for theater performances. She goes on to say:

In other words, the more constrained the game environment, the less agency the player has. The more open, the more agency. Think about the difference between Pacman and Grand Theft Auto. Both games have a “gamespace” in which they are played. Both games have rules. But Grand Theft Auto invites the player to determine their own way of using the space and engaging with the rules. The player’s agency is not total, but it is significant.

A lot of games now give a lot of leeway or freedom for the player (audience of the game) to choose their way. As a result, younger generations are expecting a different set of rules to engage experiences. This is also reinforced by the rest of the world people are living in now. Think about the entertainment options that are available now as opposed to the 30-some years ago. By that I mean the younger generations have had a lot more interactive experiences on the web actively choosing and searching for their entertainment, as opposed to having the 4 broadcast TV channels I grew up with. There is a different attitude, of being connected to friends thru social networks and sharing their real life experiences with the online community. All of that contributes to younger generations expecting a different way of interacting with the world. Makers of theater today have to understand this when creating work. If you want to engage a diverse audience, this includes younger members, how can you revisit traditional notions of negotiated agency(conventions of theater) to spark the interest of that younger audience? Can that new negotiated agency create a form of theater that would be different than other entertainment? And would that form of theater bring in an audience that can get a passive audience experience through other modes of entertainment? Time will tell. Or perhaps I need to get out there and make something like that…

Seth Godin & “Making your Own Fun”

I saw this interview with Seth Godin today and this bit stuck in my brain:

This is easy. There’s a picture that I just saw online two days ago. Monday I have this seminar I’m running for free for college students and I’m going to show them this picture before we start.

The thing about the picture that’s pathetic, beyond the notion that you need to spam the audience at graduation with a note saying you’re looking for a job, is that you went $150,000 in debt and spent four years of your life so someone else could pick you. That’s ridiculous. It really makes me sad to see that. The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”

via The Great Discontent (TGD).

This really ties into what I am thinking I should be doing with my students in college. Give them the tools and desire to go create and make things happen. This idea was repeated by Neil LaBute when he visited campus back in 2005. When asked about advice for students getting into Theater and film he said they should essentially create their own opportunities and “make your own fun.”

Neil LaBute – Sage Advice (and Making your own Fun) from Owen Collins on Vimeo.

IN this day and age, memorization of knowledge is not as important as it used to be. But generating ideas and synthesizing knowledge is more important. And what is more important than thinking up ideas is making them happen. An idea isn’t the most important thing, making it happen is. That is what everyone graduating needs to learn.

planning my summer

Lately I have begun working on my summer job. That entails working out the classes and locations for the curriculum of a summer theatre program. the students are broken down into groups and I rotate the groups thru the four different teachers, making sure that they get each group the same number of times and checking with space conflicts for where the classes can meet.

It gets a little intense here is the preliminary calendar for this Summer:

Last years calendar is in the background here:

Each different color post-it note is a different class or rehearsal or performance. The ones above the poster board are days off of the faculty, which affect which classes could be taught and rehearsals as well. Or the little pink ones are if there was another event in one of our spaces that we have to set up and then plan rehearsals/ classes around. It is a little like staring at the falling numbers in the Matrix.

Soon I will begin working on designing the posters and the sets. Which is a little more fun.

Academic desperation

I just spent the week in Cincinnati at the USITT conference. It covers design and technolgy for the theatre. The whole family came with which was great to see them. I would be able to have dinner with them and sometimes be able to do bedtime as well.

The conference on the whole was fruitful. I did a poster presentation on podcasting for educators, and that was well received. I submitted an idea for a full presentation for next year’s conference, we’ll see if it gets chosen.

You see, academics are expected to share their research in some way. Books and articles are the most respected, and the most competitive. That is followed by presenting at conferences. So that makes presenting at conferences is very desirable.

That makes these sessions highly sought after. Especially for all these assistant professors that need to get tenure and promotion, or can only get their school to pay for the trip if they are presenting.

There were two people at the conference that proposed seven different sessions when there were only ten spots available. They were visibly desperate to get a session and had a shotgun approach to proposing sessions.

We’ll see if my presentation/session gets accepted. If not I have a plan ‘b’, don’t you worry.

Notes, posts and seats to be filled

I am up to my neck in a bunch of stuff. I never realized why the department chair spent much time in his office. Now I know why. I spend a lot of my day in my office in word processing and email programs. Working on things for the department. Things crop up all of a sudden, like when I had to call the editor of the local newspaper to tell him that his reporters should not be trying to give note to the director and actors. Yes you heard that right. We invited her to a technical rehearsal for her to learn about the show. Afterwards, she said she wanted to interview the actors, and when Christopher, the director and playwright of the piece, walks in, she is giving notes to the actors! He did everything he could not to kick her out the door right then and there. So I call the editor of the newspaper and he is oddly not surprised. In fact he sounded a little resigned.

Another thing is getting more butts in the seats for our show this weekend. It has a tough title to sell, The Apotheosis of Vaclav Drda. It is about an actress that puts her all into getting a play produced, and is questioning why she does it. Through the course the play she discovers why she is an artist and questions the need for material success. The director/playwright has been blogging the process of it’s creation,you have to read it. It is inspiring and articulate.

The show is going to be great, now I just have to get them there.

The balancing act

Well my show is open, with strike happening tonight. This weekend was pretty uneventful. The kids played with friends on Saturday, with today being a stay at home day. Although Arden was sick today so that threw some things for a loop. That seems to be one of the hardest times to be a parent. When your kid is sick and cranky(really cranky) and even though you tell yourself to cut them some slack, you get extremely frustrated with them. But beyond that things are ok.

I find myself doing a lot of department head things lately. Reports, budgets, student requests, faculty requests etc. I’m glad to do most of it, since it needs to get done and is quite necessary for the department to run. But I’m finding less time for the fun stuff : teaching, designing, being in the shop. Hopefully soon I can get a decent balance between the two opposing forces. Well, until that balance comes, I guess I will consol myself with the fact that my new office has two big windows filled with natural light.

Big Apple trip

A couple of weekends ago I led a trip of students to New York City. Rob Mish and I were the chaperones, and we had 5 students with us. The students were exposed to a broad range of theatrical experiences. We arrived on Thursday, and went to ALvin Ailey’s Studios to see a reading of an original play. The legend of Sleepy Hollow, an adaptation by Christopher Cartmill an alum of Washington and Lee University from the ’80s. A lively inventive version that integrates dance and theatricality.

We got a tour of a prop shop for film and television, called Eclectic Encore. They do a lot of work for Law and Order, and Saturday Night Live. Then we walked a couple of blocks (and saw Jeff Goldblum walking down the street) to a talent agency and talked to another alum that works there.

That night we went to see Equus written by peter Shaffer and starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths. A very well done production.

The next day we saw an Off-Broadway show down in Greenwich Village, called Fifty Words, one of those great dramas filled with people that have lots of underlying problems that all pop out over the course of one long night.

Then we broke up to see different shows, the students went to see Spring Awakening. While I went down to Union Square to see Fuerzabruta. It was an amazing show that is hard to explain. It was like a magical dream of interconnected vignettes. The audience was brought on this journey about struggle and finding connection that ended triumphantly. I am making our next group of students go see it(whenever that might be).

Here is their official clip on YouTube:

You can find more YouTube clips Here, or find pictures on Flickr(photo sharing site) Here.