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Those Who Used To "Teach"


It is often said that those who cannot do, teach. And as some members of my family would like to add, those who cannot teach go into education. But embarking on conservatory training I discovered that there are teachers who cannot do and teachers who can no longer do. Both often make splendid teachers. The teachers who have given up there own performing careers due to age or ailment are often times the most giving of their time and the most insistent on perfection, creating a rare combination of encouragement and admirable standards. All too quickly the image of ancient ballet teachers hobbling on canes comes to mind. People who have seen performance for what it is as well have seen their own careers dissolve through circumstances beyond their control and have thus rededicated themselves to improving other individual’s forms rather than other individuals chances to get into the industry.


A particular conservatory instructor comes to mind. He is an individual who was well known in his day as an incredible Shakespearean actor when, after a stage fighting accident during one summer, lost the use of his left arm. That was the only extent of his injury, however it was permanent and as a result of having a single limb immobilized had to give up his craft.


Sometimes I sit in the back of his class listening to him lecture or give advice to those of us performing and I often wonder what he thinks when he examines me in his studio. An injury, which from my perspective seems extraordinarily small (although I’m sure from his point of view, it was anything but negligible) ended his career decades ago and here I am more bound in my body than he is now despite his age, embarking on a professional acting career with the insistence that disability and physical condition does not matter. He, unlike some of my tutors never offers me a detrimental word or insists that I despair regarding my impending doom as a starving artist. His standards are set as high for me as anyone else and he insists that I can be trained.


I look at him lead the class in warm ups and articulation exercises and more often than not, I am struck by the constant reminder of my ultimate goals of being in art. I dream of a world where having an “imperfect body” or being seen as more representative of the human condition. I have a vision of a world where people take as little notice of physical differences as most people do different races and the insistence of segregating the disabled because they are different is labeled as “hateful” as racism or homophobia, and I believe that it is art, particularly acting which will help our society reach these goals as it normalizes differences and forces our world to look at situations and people which many would otherwise not run into living within their own suburban plan. I want to create art and act in pieces that reiterate over and over that losing the use of a single appendage is hardly reason to bow out of the industry and take up teaching as a consolation career when one is regarded some great tragedy occurs.

I sit in his class daily and come to the conclusion that I would hope if the same injury happened to my teacher today, he would keep acting, even in the face of adversity and insist that he belonged on the stage and his talent did not disintegrate as a result of losing the use of a single appendage. I want to help create the world in which he never had to quit due to an accident that was merely an unfortunate circumstance. I can’t help but wonder if, after the accident, he too yearned for a world where art could incorporate the realities of life.

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