Is your understanding of theatre history based pretty much exclusively on western history and influence? If you studied theatre in the united states, it probably is (no judgement. It is a big topic). Theatre History. Those 2 words together cause a lot of actors to yawn, but it is vital that we know our history. Why? Well, because all of our theatrical traditions draw their inspiration from forms of the past.
Nobody creates on an island. We are all products of our learning and stimulus-exposure. Everyone has their sources of inspiration.
There is rarely anything really “new” under the sun—usually just variations on the past. If you strive to create “something new”, you must know what has been done. Otherwise, your efforts are in vein and you create only from your imagination, which can lead to ignorantly copying forms and efforts of the past, with the delusional belief that what you are doing “is new”.
If we want more innovation in American theatre, our students need to cast their gaze away from their western theatre history books and give a serious focus on world theatre, what other countries consider theatre to be and what they are doing.
As we are each products of our learning, exposing oneself to forms of other countries (and their past traditions), one gains a heck of a lot of inspiration (more than one might by just studying the west). Why? Because as we expose ourselves to unconventional stimulus, we change in unconventional ways—(unconventional meaning not exclusively based in our current cultural values and trends).
At TITAN (The International Theatre Academy Norway), our theatrical training has an international focus. When I say “international”, I don’t mean anything about skin color (though we will have an international student body). I mean philosophy. We study global theatre of past and present so that our students have a broader range of exposure to theatrical forms. As they are building their original works of theatre, they will, inevitably, draw from this knowledge and experience. The end result…their creations of theatre look…different. Not everything created in this process is a great work of art, but that is a long term goal, completed over time—for it takes time to master ones craft. Is the goal to look different? Well, we do want our students to stand out and effectively compete in the market. That is of vital importance. But that is not the principle reason. The principle reason is that we encourage them to create new forms, to create new aesthetics, as that can lead them towards finding their unique voice. Finding one’s voice as an artist is the most powerful tool they will ever acquire.
New voices can lead to new audiences. New audiences lead to new venues. New venues lead to new jobs to be filled.
Innovation is rare. That is not our focus either, though our results (on good days) sometimes lean that direction. We want our artists to lead—not just others, but first and foremost–themselves. If one can lead oneself, that individual dramatically increases their chances of making a living from their efforts.
We also put heavy focus on the Stanislavsky technique. We do so, as this is the aesthetic that the vast majority of our students commercial work will be based in. In fact, we offer film acting training too, as we know actors usually cannot make a living from theatre alone.
Some graduates go on to explore common commercial routes, exclusively, but more decide to build. If their knowledge is based in one theatrical aesthetic only (like realism and the Stanislavski technique), these artists will have a very limited range of understanding of theatre is, has been and can be. By not exposing them to world theatrical forms, we do them disservice. With the advent of the internet, the world became a lot smaller and we need to teach our artists how to rise to the occasion and excel in our changing, modern economy. More, as the ability to do business over seas expands, our artists need to have the option of participating.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.