Lighting 2: Shadow Project, Kelsey Keckler, LD
It is my goal in my teaching to watch for and develop the potential of each student. Through practical and creative projects, I advance students through an exploration of their talents and help them comprehend what effort is needed to reach their full potential. In order to help students 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 professional world beyond their degree. I accomplish this in three ways: classroom instruction, mentoring, and career counseling. All three are important in my day-to-day interaction with students and all three create the foundation for my teaching philosophy.
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 from the beginning that, in the area of design and technology, much will be expected of them, and their aim is towards perfection. 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 for the paperwork of an experienced, working stage manager. I then encourage students to create their own style. Each student is expected to produce work at a professional level, while also beginning a journey toward his or her own contribution to the field. Working together with a previous class of students, I created a written guide to stage management, which is distributed to current students. I use this guide, along with handouts and selected readings, to give students broad and varied insight into the work of a stage management department. I feel it is important to give time, respect, and attention to the history of the field by ensuring that students have a grounded perspective. 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 ranging 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. I must make sure the student has the tools and the skills needed to complete that task with success. The student also needs to recognize where and how to get support.
Lighting Design students take a different journey as they work toward becoming designers. I firmly believe that the foundation of creative expression in design comes from the personal 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 and combining that with conceptual thinking about the content, action, and the theme of a play. I use other art forms to develop the student’s perception of light. For example, an early project presented is “The Artist”. Each student is given the name of a visual 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 by discussing color, angle, intensity, and movement.
To develop the student’s own conceptual voice, I next expand upon “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 through the use of technology. It is critical to make them comprehend that their level of competence with this technology will determine their success. 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 pre-professional standard.
Mentoring, Production Work
Mentoring starts in the classroom. Skills of collaboration and communication are of major importance in all fields of theatre study, since theatre is, by its very nature, a collaborative art form. Unlike other art forms, the creation of a theatrical designer’s 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 and with the production team as a whole. My teaching reflects this emphasis for each course of study. 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 students and point out where weakness and strength lie. With this knowledge I can lead the student toward developing a strong and accurate communication style.
For those students who want to continue in the practice of theatre, the students and I then move into a more formal mentoring relationship. 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 their ability. Those students who had difficulties will receive an assignment that will help to move them through those difficulties. The student gets on-the- job training in addition to continued instruction. 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 refine a clearer path to their potential. In light of the newfound promise and, often, motivation that comes from production work, the student and I together re-evaluate their course work to help them find the balance needed for a successful academic career.
Regular feedback is key to furthering the student’s progress toward growth. Within the production process (beyond the classroom), 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 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 World after the Degree
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 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.