Artistic Director Heather Huggins discusses her philosophy of teaching.
We are all capable of excellence; pursuing that excellence requires a flexible, adaptable, and holistic approach to processing information. My classroom is a space where students can ask questions of themselves and the world around them so that they may make discerning choices both on-stage and off. To achieve this, I utilize curricula designed in the spirit of an incremental learning model.
One of my favorite exercises for incremental actor training is weight-sharing. In the first stage, students stand facing each other, a foot or so apart; they each outstretch a hand and then lean back with straight bodies until they find a place of balance using a shared equilibrium. Initially, this appears to be a primitive exercise in trust and an opportunity for actors to understand the physics of their own skeletal structure; but upon deeper exploration, it is an opportunity to understand who we are as actors and as humans. It is an invitation to commune with yourself -- to develop body and spatial awareness, to examine circles of attention, to observe (and perhaps let go of) your own attachment to the outcome of the exercise, and to acknowledge a variety of mental reactions (such as fear, control, disappointment, or pride). Furthermore, trying the exercise again with a new partner or on a new day becomes an opportunity to explore the immediacy of performance in an instant: no two partners are the same, every student is unique, and there are no identical moments on stage. Every time the exercise is practiced, it is a fresh chance to foster a spirit of immediacy. This exercise in skill-building also positively addresses several frequent pitfalls of the aspiring actor: the tendency to play the end of the scene, or to miss the present moment by focusing on the latest perceived "success" or "failure". With time, this introductory exercise can be applied to advanced weight-sharing and further ensemble development. The versatility and applicability of weight-sharing are limitless; the exercises are fertile ground for understanding ourselves, relationships, ensemble, community, and the world around us.
Weight-sharing is a perfect metaphor for my ideal teaching experience: I provide students with a historically established method, then let them try it out for themselves, problem-solve, and share resources. I offer guidance and a structure, but ultimately I encourage each student to make choices, take risks, and make the experience their own. I have learned all this and more from my time in the classroom; as I continue to dedicate my life to teaching, I know I will learn even more, and I look forward to greeting these lessons with the same open spirit that I hope to instill in my students.
May the beauty of what you love, be what you do. - Rumi
A short excerpt from Ms. Huggins' thesis, Chapter 2. Definition of Terms: Internal and External Technique, defended in June 2009 and recommended for publication.
Meyerhold believed "there exists a series of axioms which hold good for the actor, regardless of the type of theatre in which he is performing" (Meyerhold 198).
Alexsandar Tairov viewed skill-building as the road to mastery for the actor, noting that: in every other art you are always free to choose the material most suitable for your intent (clay, marble, granite, bronze, silver, etc.). Here you are stuck with the material fate has given you...this material is without doubt the most capricious, subject to every kind of accident, changeable, unstable, short-lived. What tireless vigilance, what consummate craft must you master, actor, in order to subjugate this "material" to your creative will and force it to assume and maintain a given form. (Tairov 69)
In contrast to common Western assumptions (about Stanislavksy's System i.e. "The Method"), the leading Russian masters believed that equal significance should be placed on internal and external technique . Droznin has frequently shared with me: "It is unimportant whether you begin the search for your character by working externally or internally. What is important is that you move from either the internal to the external (or vice versa) until you have integrated the other." This integrated training approach was considered to be "the path of the actor who will master his art, the path which will lead to a new master actor" (Tairov 72).
Internal technique is viewed as the ability to temper one's mind and emotional states. Curricula trains attention, imagination, justification, observation, emotional states, memory, and so on. External technique is viewed as the ability for the actor to control "his own body, his breath, his voice, his entire physical being" (Tairov 81). Curricula introduces techniques for controlling the voice and the body. Vakhtangov believed: "The more deeply (you) see and feel the image, the character of the role, the more vividly and strongly (you will) strive to communicate it to the audience. The depth of the feeling is directly proportionate to the degree of its outer expressiveness...The more passionate are the feelings of the hero, the more sculpturally and monumentally they must be embodied by an actor" (Siminov 47).
Each of the mentioned Russian masters recognized that systematized training "requires work, work, and more work. It requires a school" (Tairov 70). They each created venues to train students: Stanislavsky organized the Studios, Meyerhold was fond of training and experimentation throughout his career, Tairov created a training school with the Kamerny, Les Kurbas created a number of training schools under the Berezil, and Vakhtangov founded the Shukin School. "To want to act, to have a "calling' for it, even talent, is far from enough to actually become an actor. No, a tremendous amount of preparatory work and continuous training is necessary to turn your vague wish into professional excellence, so that in the end you are not some wunderkind or talented dilettante but a true actor, a master of your art" (Tairov 70).
1. What is your code name?
H-dog and Rita.
2. What is your personal slogan?
“I want progress, not program credit.”
3. What is your spirit animal?
A wild horse!
4. Do you have an allegiance to any particular fictional character, cartoon, or celebrity?
Animal, from The Muppets.
5. What is the first thing you'd buy with a million dollar inheritance from a long-lost relative?
A theatre in Austin, with co-op housing on site, or within walking distance.
6. If you could have a super-power, what would it be?
The ability to teleport between Austin and Moscow.
7. What were you hoping no one would find out about you?
The time my dad took me to American Gladiator. And that I continue to buy Totino’s cheese pizza.
8. What would be the title of your first book?
Waiting for People to Get Out of My Way. It’s about the life of a gymnast and the daily conflict of trying to warm up without hurting any bystanders.
9. What is your power food?
10. What are some of your favorite quotes?
“You belong somewhere you feel free.” - Tom Petty.
“May the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi.
11. What is your theme song?
12. Are you a ninja, a pirate, or a cowboy?
A ninja, all the way.
13. Do you “double” as anything else?
Stephen Wright, but he doesn’t know it yet.
Heron & Crane's Flight Goes On
Our two swamp-birds just can't be stopped! Heron & Crane, DA!'s interactive assembly for grades K-5 based on a Russian folk-tale, continues to be a tremendous hit on the grade school circuit and even went as far as Manhattan for FringeNYC last August! Ms. Huggins produces and co-directs.
This past fall, Heather was excited to join the faculties of both Southwestern and ACC-Round Rock, two incredible Austin-area theatre departments with whom which she'll continue working in the Spring. She also once again co-directed Rhonda Kulhanek's The Mommy Confessions for its North Texas debut, all while teaching Droznin classes from her home studio and co-chairing the Advanced Performing Program at Huntington-Surrey School!
Heather was recently nominated for a B. Iden Payne Award for directing the exciting remount of Just Say DA!: Direct Object for the Collective in September 2009, our Frontera Best-of-Fest-winning production inspired by the long-running Night of Objects and People in Moscow. Heather shepherded a full-length version this time around, with a whole new array of ordinary objects come to life, including her scene partner for "Haunted," a purple umbrella! The show is now available for touring to secondary schools.
Heather holds a Master of Fine Arts with highest honors from the Boris Shukin Theatre Institute, Vakhtangov Theatre, Moscow, Russian Federation, where she was mentored by the premiere stage movement director and professor in Russia, Andrei Borisovich Droznin. ...read more
DA: Special Pleasure
“One must learn how to build the conditions for creativity.” Evgeny Vakhtangov
DA: Direct Object
“We influence our partners with our entirety. The influence of my “I” on my partner’s “I” is what we call interaction.” Evgeny Vakhtangov
DA is a not-for-profit collective under the sponsorship of HPT
DA! Theatre Collective 511 W 43rd St Austin TX 78751
512 479-7530 x 5