“Why are we doing this?’
I remember the moment clearly, even now, a quarter of a century later.
It was not a challenge, though it felt like one.
It was not some kid being ‘cheeky’, though I was tempted to react as if it was.
I remember the sinking feeling, the anxiety, the dryness in the mouth, the feeling of panic.
I felt everyone could see I was lost.
It was a question – a perfectly reasonable question; “Why are we doing this?”
It was during a Youth Theatre Session. I was running an exercise that was clearly not working. He just stopped doing what I asked him to and instead asked me:
‘Why are we doing this?’
Let me back up a bit.
It was my first session in charge of an outer suburban youth theatre. It was my first ‘proper’ job in a country I’d recently emigrated to. It felt like a lot was riding on it.
I had very good intentions, but not a lot of self-confidence.
I had some decent experience behind me, not not much understanding.
I’d been told it was going to be a tough gig, but I’d not realised how tough ‘tough’ could be. As I planned the session, I wanted to introduce myself, my way of working. I wanted them to show me what they could do. I wanted to build ‘a team’.
Not sure where to start, I remembered an exercise I’d done with another Artist-Teacher some months earlier. I’d thought it was good and that it would do as a starting point…..
Seeing the group drift in, late, distracted and disengaged after a day at school, I had a sinking feeling.
But I pushed on.
I explained the exercise and tried to ignore the glances passing between them as I spoke.
My mouth began to feel a little dry with anxiety.
I pushed on.
Within moments I knew I’d misjudged.
They weren’t interested and barely even pretended to do what I asked.
I pushed on.
Then came the question:
‘Why are we doing this?’
I felt the bodily sensations of rising panic. Then the voices in my head. I was a fraud. I was an imposter. I was failing. I’d blown it already. I’d let them down, failed myself, the local council down, the whole damn world…..
It doesn’t take long for a small problem to become a big problem when you’re on the spot and not sure what you’re trying to do.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t the question that bothered me.
What made my heart sink was realising I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know why we were doing that particular exercise, except in a general ‘this will fill up the time and be a way of getting to know each other’ sort of way.
I also didn’t have a Plan B.
I had NO flexibility.
Even though it was not working, I pushed on because I didn’t have the flexibility, or confidence, to find something better to do. I had a plan and I was going to stick to it!
I realise now, I didn’t really have a proper objective. I had decided WHAT we were going to do, but not WHY we were going to do it. And when the WHAT didn’t work, I didn’t have an alternative HOW to proceed.
It was not a fun session, though they stuck with me and in the end we got somewhere during the couple of years I spent with them.
Around the same time I was teaching a workshop in ensemble physical performance for professional performers. There was an exercise I’d learned in my early days as a performer that was brilliantly effective, and really exhausting. One of those really tough training exercises I loved!
As we sat exhausted at the end, a performer I respected deeply, quietly asked ‘why do we do that?’.
Again I realised I did not have a proper answer. I knew it worked, I did not know HOW it worked. I did not know WHY it worked.
That was a turning point for me. I committed myself to knowing my WHY. I don’t mean writing out a set of ‘learning objectives’ for each exercise. I mean a deep level of understanding about WHY I work how I do. I would never again ask students to do exercises, or money-people to pay me, unless I could give them a proper answer to their simple, reasonable questions: ‘why do this?’ and ‘how is your work going to achieve that?’.
So I came to explore the WHY and the HOW of teaching performance.
When you discover your WHY, you discover who you are as an Artist-Teacher. You know your offer.
Your WHY gets you into the room.
Your HOW helps you build bridges between what you do and the needs, fears and expectations of those you’re working for and with.
Your HOW also helps you be flexible – because when something isn’t working, you take your exercises to pieces and put them together again differently.
This doesn’t mean reducing everything to check-boxes. Nor does it mean everything has to be explained in words. Sometimes my answer to ‘how does it work’ is ‘do it and you’ll discover’. But fundamentally I need to know – and be able to explain – WHY I do what I do and HOW what I do helps students achieve their objectives.
If you want to be flexible and adaptable – to be responsive during a teaching session – you must know the fundamentals of your work REALLY well – just as if you want to improvise on an instrument, you better know how to play that instrument in the first place!
It’s been a long journey since that night at the outer-suburban youth theatre. I’ve taught all over the world from elite training schools to community groups, at all levels of education and in areas of personal development and corporate training. Always it has been a process of deepening my understanding of, and ability to explain, my WHY and my HOW.
I hope never again to feel my body sinking into cold sweat, panic starting to rise, as I feel eyes staring at me seeking an answer I don’t have.
Now I’ve created The Teach Performance Programme – to help you explore, understand and explain your WHY and HOW. The programme looks at the nature of intelligence and creativity, the structure of the body mind, psycho-physicality, intersecting pedagogies, feedback processes, flow theory, the learning journey and so much more….
Crucial technical understandings of how to Teach Performance, laid out in accessible, bite-sized chunks.
I want you to access the 40 videos and emerge with unshakeable understandings of why your work matters and how to make sure you deliver excellently every single time. I want you confident, flexible and excellent.
Because Art Matters.
I want you to have firm ground to stand on when you teach and when you sell your work to those you want to hire and employ you.
The Teach Performance Programme is based in the WHY-and-HOW approach, developed over my three decades of teaching. It’s my offer to Artist-Teachers who want to change the world, one student at at time.
If you buy now – and are one of the first 15 to sign up – you’ll get a big discount and three months free membership of The Fire-Makers’ Community – an online community of Artist-Teachers where you can access new teaching videos as they become available, archives of seminars, two live online discussions each month, insight interviews with International Artist-Teachers, AND join the private Fire-Makers’ Facebook Group..
Never apologise for being an Artist-Teacher.
The Teach Performance Programme is available either as a complete package or as individual modules. Any purchase comes with 3 months FREE membership of The FIre-Makers’ Community
If you’d like to discuss if this programme is right for you, or explore more individual mentorship, fill in this form and book a call