Educating in the Dark
Jason Lasky looks at the elements of his work as an IB Drama teacher that have become central to his personal repertoire, and which help students to ‘let go’.
Building a repertoire
For most of us there are certain elements in our practice that are so important and powerful, that they become central to our teaching. Once upon a time, in 2012, I was a graduate student attending the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City. My movement teacher introduced us to a wide array of exercises during that first Fall term.
One of them, the Billingsley Movement Series, I have taught to my students over the last five terms at UWC Dilijan. It’s a whole-body experience, focusing on the health of the spine, which is the protective case of the central nervous system- the actor’s most important tool – and is central to my teaching,
Dancing in the dark
Another exercise which I have expanded upon, and which has become something of a cornerstone of my theatre teaching practice is “Dancing in the Dark”.
“Dancing in the Dark” is probably a bit of a misnomer as it is more a movement-based philosophy than strictly “dance.” It provides a platform for
- Confronting and neutralizing self-censorship of the physical body
- Having physical conversations with music whereby the music is channeled through the body in an impulsive fashion
- Team-building on a more subconscious level.
It really helps students ‘let go’ – an important aspect of my work. It works best in a big dark space, like my school’s Black Box Theatre. And it works REALLY well with a loud sound system, which the BBT happens to house. The range of music and sounds which I use varies from watery currents to screeching guitars, from melodic jazz to industrial sounds.
Participants engage with the auditory inputs with the intention of following their natural physical impulses fully, while consciously looking to break any kind of normalized and internalized patterns that their bodies have grown accustomed to owing to socialized rules of public behavior.
At the conclusion of the “dance” session, students sit together and give feedback about their experiences and what kinds of moments stood out for them during their journey, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
I vary the sounds that the students react to from session to session, and what I’ve found expressed in their feedback is an increasing sense of “letting go” and “connecting,” whereby one has actualized the embodiment, the very feeling, of an individual sense of freedom while at the same time forming a host of new relationships with those others that have been present during the session. An energized, albeit sweaty, person emerges from a session with a new sense of “self” and “other.”
Recently a group of 6 visiting Russian university-aged entrepreneurs joined my DP2 students during a Dancing in the Dark session. I wondered what they would make of it. Four of the young men participated from the start while the other two observed, and later on a fifth member felt compelled to join in. I observed their interactions with each other and with my Theatre students, and by the end, in addition to their gratitude and smiles, they all concluded that they had come to a different understanding about their relationship with one another on a more subconscious level, wherein they had partnered during the dance in a physical way that went beyond their daily interactions.
They also said that going through this kind of session had sparked in them questions about their relationships with their bodies and their minds. What was gratifying for me personally, was that my students and these visitors interacted on a level of play and comfort with each other during the session, that revealed that this kind of work allows for an organic shift to happen in the nature of what we define as “personal boundaries” and “personal space”. In the process, a new bond can be formed that has a lasting impact.
And that might have an importance beyond the confines of a Theatre Arts class.
Jason Lasky is an IBDP Theatre Teacher and has taught ToK and Literature and Performance at UWC Dilijan. He is the founder of the UWC International 10-Minute Play Festival. Jason is the co-founder of J Lasky productions.
Two of his one-act plays have been published in QU Literary Journal and The 2017 Secret Theatre Anthology.
Images: Provided by Jason