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The museum in Rochester, NY, where I grew up, had a children's theater
program which presented plays about cultures and customs all around the
world. I belonged to that theater group for years, doing once-a-month
performances and rehearsing after school and on Saturdays. I don't remember
much of that, but it must have influenced greatly my curiosity about people
from other places and other cultures, because I have always been attracted
to people who see the world differently than I do.
Although I did character roles in several high school plays, I never took
acting lessons, except for the grade-school museum group. I read avidly,
though, and I remember Michael Chekhov's acting technique as an early
influence. His books inspired me, and became my tutorials. I thought his
emphasis on "psychological gesture" and expressive movement made more sense
than Stanislavski's absorption (preoccupation) with the self.
Even early on, I thought acting and theater were more a place for
communication, a safe place to explore ideas together, than a venue for
showing off or for psychological self-exploration in public. An empathic
link and mutual recognition of our elemental humanness and reverberating
cultural roots is what makes theater performance thrilling for me...
The University of Rochester, where I did my undergraduate work and
masters degree, had little to offer in theater. I tried out for Lysistrata
in my freshman year, but the director was so stultified by her emphasis on a
pedantic reader's-theater approach that I quickly got away from that. If
acting or speech classes were available, I was unaware of them. I did do
some renegade theater with friends. Four of us got together a performance
of Sartre's No Exit. That show went well enough that I was accepted as a
novice in the alternative theater group on campus. We did mostly
avant-garde French plays: Genet, Beckett, that sort of thing. We were all
very sincere. Several of the guys in that group went into professional
theater, but I didn't see that as a particularly promising field-so many
actors are so often unemployed...
I took Shakespeare, mostly because I knew I would need that if I wanted to
become an English major. I fell in love with learning, and with
Shakespeare. Wilbur Dunkel, my professor, entranced me by emphasizing the
dramaturgy in Shakespeare's early plays. He showed me how to take a scene
apart, to look with a writer's eye and a linguist's appreciation at the
early, struggling playwright.
Then R.J. Kaufman, another giant in my academic life, took over during the
second semester, putting Shakespeare's major works into a historical
context. I admired his eidetic memory, his critical insight, his sense of
language and poetry, and his tolerance of my brash certainty, my harsh
negativism. He personified for me what a teacher could be, by fostering the
potential in his students, and what a person could be, by accomplishing a
meaningful, productive life.
I went from the University of Rochester to teaching high school English in
a small country school in upstate New York, and from there to three years
at the Harley School, a fine private country day school. I had been bitten
by the theater bug, though, and as soon as I completed my master's degree
at the University of Rochester I made my way to the University of Colorado,
where I could teach English as a graduate associate instructor, pursue a
degree in the Communication and Theater Department and participate in the
Colorado Shakespeare Festival...
My approach to
theater has changed since I have been a Bahá´í. Rather than trying to shock
people into awareness in a rebellious way, I have now gentled considerably.
I see theater as a focused team effort to bring an audience together in
unity, a safe place to explore our capacity for empathy, to see into
emotions expressed in behaviors, and to recognize our collective
potential. Theater is one way to hold our souls to the light, to be
touched, and to share. The most effective teaching I have experienced has
been around the theater. In the intense effort of shared commitment, one's
character becomes an attractant (or a repellant)...
Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, March 1999, pages 5 - 7
I´m developing a web site at http://members.tripod.com/~Colin_Taylor/home.html
Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands