Matt’s Teaching Philosophy

teachStatement of Teaching Philosophy and Methods

I feel that the word, “discipline,” can very easily be colored by negative connotations. After all, if a small child is unruly she may be, “disciplined,” for breaking a rule. Unfortunately, this is the most obvious context in which the word is considered. I feel, however, that discipline is not a negative word at all, but rather an achievable aspiration. If a scholar/artist is able to find that discipline has value, then that person has discovered a means of focus and clarity of thought.

So if discipline is an important goal, then how is this goal achieved? In my life as a scholar/artist I have found that I am most successful whenever I am able to recognize a moment where my mind can function without unnecessary judgment or inhibition. If I can comprehend a moment or situation with clear eyes, then I can make an objective observation. Developing the ability to make this type of observation has been incredibly beneficial to my life and my work as an actor. Stillness, confidence, patience, and reverence are traits that allow the scholar/artist to have discipline in their art and in their lives. As a teacher, this is my ultimate goal for my students. This kind of discipline makes artists and scholars who are bold, imaginative, and insightful, because the student is then able to sense and comprehend a more profound understanding of the world.

In my acting classes I employ the improvisational games of Viola Spolin throughout the entire semester as a principle means to free the actor from internal, and therefore external, restrictive inhibitions, fear, performance anxiety, and self-judgment. I was lucky enough to be able to study (well, play actually) Ms. Spolin’s theatre games at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts for a year-long intensive with Mr. Robert Moyer; a direct disciple of Ms. Spolin. This training was revolutionary for me as a young actor, and thus I share these same games and experiences with my students.

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I also utilize several other methods in my classroom to hopefully allow my students to be able to achieve this goal of discipline. The first and most fundamental step in this journey is the ability for the actor to be able to find proper support of breath, and to connect that breath to thought, and thus to text. I utilize fundamentals of Fitzmaurice in conjunction with Alexander Technique to begin exploration of the importance of proper breath support. I also have students discover and then perform the great public orators of our past, so they may then apply successful elements of connected breath and text to their own work. In addition, I feel it is of great importance to study the techniques employed in the performance of classical texts of Shaw and Shakespeare, so the student may then apply these valuable techniques to all of their work.

Furthermore, I have found that the path to a student’s success is often guided by too stern a hand in the arts. I do not find value in dwelling on a student’s perceived failures, such as moments when a student is unable to unlock and apply a concept. These moments should instead be treated as opportunities to learn and grow. I choose to celebrate the successes of my students. I believe that fear is the perpetual enemy of the artist, be it fear of failure in the eyes of peers or in the eyes of the teacher. I place more importance upon the exploration of a process than perceived results. Ultimately, I always strive to create a classroom environment where every scholar/artist feels cared for and supported, so they may then unlock the power of stillness, confidence, patience, and reverence. In my classroom, this is how I define the word, “discipline,” for it is discipline of the self that I seek to instill in my students.

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