Learning to act : the politics, pedagogy, and possibilities of contemporary actor training in the U.S.
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This dissertation is a critical and comparative examination of late twentieth century and early twenty-first century actor training practices in the United States. It looks specifically at: Viewpoints training as developed by Anne Bogart; Meisner technique; and the physical theatre training at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. I examine the ways in which theories about the actor, including ideas about the actor’s mind and body, the actor’s creativity, and the actor’s agency and authority, are embodied in classroom practices. Through the combined study of primary sources such as acting manuals, theories about embodiment and creativity, ethnographic participant-observation accounts from classrooms, interviews with teachers, and a phenomenological approach to describing my experience, I attempt to analyze what it means to be an actor in three different realms of training. The first chapter introduces my critical approaches, including my approach to ideas of embodiment, creativity, ethnography, phenomenology, and pedagogy. In chapter two, I focus on how ideas about reality and relationships are embedded in Meisner training and conduct a case study by observing a class called Acting Realism at Texas State University. In chapter three, I argue that Viewpoints, through an emphasis on deconstructing theatrical hierarchies, offers possibilities for actors to shift the balance of agency. I also conduct a case study based on my participation in a two-week workshop with artists from Bogart’s SITI Company held at Links Hall in Chicago in the summer of 2008. In chapter four, I examine the generative pedagogical strategies at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, incorporating my experience as a student in the school’s 2009 summer intensive. Throughout, I suggest that conceptual ideas about the actor’s body-mind, creativity, and idealized role have an embodied effect on the degree of agency the actor experiences in the classroom. I conclude by suggesting ways to approach actor training in the future that can create more context and agency for actors.