Acting Teaching Drama

Richard Dreyfuss and Alicia Witt in Mr. Holland’s Opus – Movie Scene Monday

We’re changing Movie Monologue Monday a bit this year. We’re going to add a character or two and call it Movie Scene Monday. Not as alliterative as the original title, but it’ll do.

January is going to focus on the arts and education.

First up is this trio of scenes from Mr. Holland’s Opus. (Hat tip to Lana O’Brien.) The film traces the career of high school music teacher Glenn Holland (played by Dreyfuss).

In this scene, Holland helps out a struggling student (Witt).

The one thing that doesn’t ring quite true is how, with just a few sage words from Holland, she’s able to overcome her struggles. But this is a Hollywood movie and Hollywood movies have to move quickly. (Note: The character actually does have years of training in the clarinet and she has a mental block that’s preventing her from playing. So I think the flaw is that they make it look like she’s completely terrible.)

Class Exercise

Watch the video and discuss these questions. Don’t worry about whether or not everyone has seen the whole movie. Fill in the missing details using what you see, hear, and imagine.

  • When you first saw the scene, what did you think Holland meant when he said, “Give it up, Miss Lang?”
  • Music plays when Holland walks back to her at the beginning. Why was this specific piece of music chosen for this moment?
  • In the first scene (up to the point where she leaves the room) how many times does she make eye contact with Holland? Why did the actress (Witt) make this choice?
  • At the beginning of the second scene (Lang walks in as Holland is playing the piano) she calls his name. He doesn’t turn but he knows who it is. Why?
  • Lang says “Thanks for trying” and turns to leave. Holland asks, “Is it any fun?” Why does she stop? If she’s so sure she can’t play, why does she stay in the room?
  • Has Holland given up on her? What are the clues (in the writing and the performance) that he hasn’t?
  • What is the meaning of his speech about the song (Louie Louie) and how it’s not about notes on a page?
  • When she enters the room, does Holland know he’s going to eventually sit her down at the piano and play? When does he decide to do that? What triggers him?
  • What does Holland mean when he says “play the sunset?”
  • What do we learn from the third scene (the graduation concert)?
  • Take the entire scene and rewrite it for a drama class. He’s a drama teacher and she is a struggling actress. How much do the same lessons apply?

Is there a scene you think we should feature on Movie Scene Monday? Send it to me (preferably with a YouTube link) and I’ll love you forever.

About the author

Craig Mason