I am thrilled to be able to introduce this blog post from renowned theatre educator Gai Jones. Gai Jones is a retired theatre educator and the author of Raising the Curtain: Activities for the Theatre Arts Classroom. She taught for 34 years at El Dorado High School in Placentia, California. She now travels the country teaching workshops and is a member of the Leadership Governing Board for the Educational Theatre Association.
How Teaching Theatre Arts Has Expanded My Appreciation of Life by Gai Jones
I have experienced fifty years of students inspiring my life’s passion. From teaching in the 1960s to the 21st
century, my experiences with students, their successes, and their struggles as they study and live the arts has led me to an emphatic revelation of each person’s life story, and how studying theatre arts brings them a place to be heard and recognized.
I am a professional Theatre educator. I am a conduit through which beginning actors discover a home to feel valued about their creative sides. I become more appreciative and continually surprised in the power of teaching Theatre Arts to willing students.
Recently I am discovering an expanded understanding of arts efforts through instructing senior Theatre actors, in Sage to Stage, an acting workshop for senior citizens, which I created. Students who are fifty-five years and older are workshop participants. With more leisure time, retired and older active people take part in meaningful experiences. Older students find that the arts is a natural place for their expansion of another dimension. I have expanded my life’s views by being with these wonderful human beings; some who are seasoned performers; others are newbies to the stage and the thrill of achieving “the natural high of performing.’
By dramatically shaping their stories, I experience life through the eyes of older actors. I have helped format a life story of a retired colonel into an original dramatic monologue about his boyhood memory of Pearl Harbor as a seven year old and how he remembered hearing planes on Dec. 7, 1941. I have vicariously glimpsed an older woman’s memory of playing with a girl named Anne in Amsterdam. I have provided an opportunity for a vocalist who last auditioned in England as a boy for a role in OLIVER and was rejected, and recently played the elder role in our community theatre production, which I directed. My neighbor, a ninety-one year old retiree, who was a homemaker even as a young child after her mother died, signed up for Sage to Stage. She wrote a monologue recreating her life as a caretaker for her dad, her husband, and her children. She revealed in a workshop session a dream to sing in front of an audience. She worked on the song, ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.’ She performed. She did it. The audience applauded. I as a teacher could not be more proud for her.
A shy, insecure older lady; I’ll call her Mary; took the workshop on her daughter’s recommendation. The elderly actor’s husband had just died after years of lingering with Alzheimer’s. Mary was apologetic to our workshop delegates about her inexperience and her fear of performing. After weeks of our reassuring, she succeeded in making us laugh. The acting assignment was to create a list of ‘Great Things about Getting Older.’ Her thoughts included that as a senior, she no longer needs a fake ID to buy beer, that she is not afraid to tempt fate by breaking the chain of luck-bringing letters and emails, and finally she could throw away pictures of people she does not remember or did not like. We laughed with her. She smiled the recognition that she had engaged us. She relaxed.
After our workshop sessions ended, we as a group went to see a professional production of one man show SIMON WIESENTHAL. Mary sat in the first row; she was the recipient of a flower from the actor. In the Talk Back with the actor/director, Mary revealed that she had lost numerous family members in the Holocaust. On the way home Mary expressed her joy of being able to share in experiences as a part of our acting ensemble. Mary glowed about the experience of taking the Sage to Stage and attending the Theatre with fellow actors.
The day after seeing the show, I received a call from her daughter. Mary returned home that night suffered a massive heart attack which ended her life.
Mary is proof that art enhanced her later life’s experiences. I as a teacher of Theatre Arts am a provider of the possible creative experience. I invest in students who want to enrich their lives even though it may be unknown territory. My vision of the fragility of life and honoring the individual’s story is expanded by working with Theatre arts students, particularly the sages of the stage. I feel that I unwrap myself as a gift to people who want an opportunity to blossom. I feel enriched.
I feel privileged that working with Sage to Stage actors has pushed my teaching to beyond the traditional curricular study to a rich field of untapped creativity.
Leading the list of human fears is public speaking. It can be part of a bucket list to take charge of one’s present by facing the perceived fear of performing before a public. My gift is to give actors of any age the opportunity to succeed in creating the magic which comes from a presentation. I give them the power to develop their creativity. The audience smile or audible sound of appreciation sparked by a well-executed line or a bold character choice is the greatest pay-off for my gift of teaching theatre.
It is part of my expanded vision to continue to be enthralled and surprised by my students and the power of teaching Theatre Arts. Get in touch with me: [email protected]Click here for a Teaching Teacher Word cloud. Print it, post it and let it remind you Theatre Theatre is important!
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