Characterising Actor Trainers' Understanding of their Practice in Australian and English Drama Schools
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Institutionalised actor training, which is essentially a twentieth century phenomenon, often remains a mysterious facet of the theatre industry due largely to the unarticulated understandings of pedagogical practices of acting tutors. This thesis examines acting tutors instructional approaches to actor training in leading drama schools in Australia and England. Using qualitative case study, the report found that tutor responses could be grouped in terms of tutors views of themselves, drama schools and the training process. The goals that the tutors had for actor training could be divided into four interrelated categories: intellectual, personal, social and practical, with a strong emphasis on personal and social meanings. In Phenix's (1964) terms, the informants' meanings were synnoetic - direct, personal, and experiential; and the informants were using metaphor and narrative to try to communicate these meanings. In the terms of Broudy (1977) they were using different contextual frameworks of 'knowledge(s)-with' and these meanings were often expressed as polarisations or divides in meaning: for example teaching versus inspiring; conservatoire versus university; artist versus academic; systematic versus eclectic; trust versus scepticism; and experiential versus intellectual. The data suggest that the meanings that the tutors had constructed on acting and on the teaching of acting were difficult to communicate in conventional ways. These difficult-to-convey and sometimes polarised meanings are developing in the drama school community of practice, over time, as a result of the different experiential histories of people who work within these schools. Most of the informants in the study had come from careers in acting, had worked in the theatre industry more broadly and also themselves had initial drama school training. It is possible that their differences in constructing meaning may be due to differences in their historically derived frameworks or contexts against which they construct meaning - different 'knowledge(s)-with'. However, much of what these tutors articulate is underpinned by core understandings of acting and actor training. As a result, there had developed a shared 'craft-based way of knowing' what acting is and how actor training should proceed. That is, the acting tutors had brought their own synnoetic meanings to the drama school context, and this had developed over time into the shared mixture of seemingly quasi-pedagogical and anti-pedagogical tutor objectives. The expression of informants meanings echoes Bruner's (1986) differentiation between paradigmatic or logico-scientific' modes of knowing from a narrative mode. Paradigmatic modes of knowing are used for good theory and logical proof whereas the application of the narrative mode involves good stories and historical (although not necessarily 'true') human accounts. The study acknowledges the different ways in which individuals apprehend experience, access the meanings that they construct on experience, and how they seek to render and communicate those meanings to others. Actor training, like acting itself, contains meanings which have consolidated over time into automated ways of knowing and are difficult to convey in conventional ways. Although it appears that much of their discussions of practice remained largely tacit, tutors demonstrated both tacit and explicit forms of knowledge, which were derived from various kinds of experiences. A perceived separation between the 'academic' ('theoretical' or the 'intellectual') and the 'practical' appeared to be largely derived from experientially acquired knowledge. In actor training, approaches to pedagogy are hard to capture by virtue of particular meanings being constructed vicariously through the process of moving from novice to expert. This is unlike traditions of generalist teaching which have sought to communicate a more explicit understanding of pedagogy and thus giving rise, perhaps, to why it is often claimed that acting cannot be taught.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Vocational, Technology and Arts Education
Item Access Status
narrative mode of acting