Sunday, May 3, 2009


When I was training to be an opera stage director, I was taught that everyone takes information in one of three ways - visual, tactile, or auditory. I could show the singer what I wanted by moving about on the stage, I could move with a hand on the singer or their hand on my shoulder to show how and where I wanted them to move during a phrase, or I could sit and tell them what I wanted. Most of the time I used versions of all three, but mostly it was visual or tactile. The fun of directing was discovering what different needs each singer had and how best to impart information to them. Very few singers could learn just by listening alone. I found that observation fascinating, especially in an art form that was conceived as primarily an auditory one, the singers themselves weren't auditory learners of stage movement. When I had worked as an opera singer, I learned the stage direction auditorally, rarely was it tactile, sometimes visual. So while I was wearing my director's hat, I had to discover the best way to communicate what I wanted to accomplish while making the singers feel empowered.

As an actor, I've noticed that most stage directors give auditory directions, sometimes visual demonstrations, but rarely tactile. Actors tend to be auditory learners, "enter stage left at this line," and it is done exactly. Not much more thought than that.

Working as a puppeteer, I had to discover how the puppet moved, why it moved, what was effective. Weeks would be spent "playing" with the puppet, using a mirror to watch the movement. When we got to the actual staging the director would say, "I want you to enter stage left at this line," but I had to figure out what did that mean. Breaking down the movement into minutia, timing was crucial. How could a foot would be placed, a knee bent, the torso following, arm and hand motion, and most importantly the focus of the puppet's eyes. Was it a comical moment or a serious one? Then I would have to determine the pace of movement for the puppet's blossoming personality. While in the rehearsal process my work was visual and tactile, but it totally became tactile in performance.

I performed in two productions at Gallaudet University as a voice actor. The first was a Moliere play, "The Doctor in Spite of Himself." The actors were all deaf and performed in sign language, we voice actors were cast in different roles, speaking the lines for the hearing audience as the actor was delivering her lines in sign language. Sign language has a whole different syntax than the English we use, so I would say it was a subtext of what was being signed. So imagine - the text was translated from French, then into sign language, the voice actors' scripts were a poetic English version of the original text. I laser-beamed onto the woman playing the character I was voicing, watching how she physically phrased a line so that I could be true to what she was doing. Sometimes I couldn't figure out what line she was saying from the thickly translated verse, and then we would have to communicate which was difficult. I'd grab one of the voice actors who also signed to try and understand which could take a while. In this particular production, the voice actors were off-book, all the lines memorized. During the performance, we sat on the extreme stage left and right sides of the stage, standing when our character appeared, watching the actors from that angle deliver their lines while we spoke the lines, talk about a roller coaster ride. I'd go with visual in this case!

By this point, you probably can tell that I am an auditory learner. Puppetry really challenged me, but I liked performing tactically. I am not a visual person, so performing with deaf actors was an extreme challenge but I became a much better actor and communicator for it.

How do you learn??? How do you take in information? A fascinating question!

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