If you haven’t had a chance to read our last post yet, make sure you do that before diving into this post. As we begin to experiment with the format and mission of the KTS Blog, we’ve been asking each other questions, about the work and our relationship with it. Our post last time prompted some responses that got us all sorts of curious, and we couldn’t just let those responses stand uninterrogated. So we share with you this week our responses — and our responses to our responses — to some of our initial lines of inquiry.
JEREMY: I’m thinking about your oboe performance story: If technical mastery is one ingredient of the performance stew, can we consider the mental/emotional/spiritual ingredients all aspects of “play?” As I was reading your story and thinking about the playfulness of KTS– Omnish, “Reindeer Games,” etc– I thought to myself, “If we don’t play, we get played”…by our anxiety! How does your experience with learning to include your whole self in your preparation help you with clients? Do you have a sensitivity, intuition, or “super power” with those who might ignore or resist playfulness?
TYLER: With retrospect, I’m able to look at that event now and have pity on my young self, seeing how I had not been trained in adapting to the flow of the present. I didn’t have any helpful beliefs in practice and in performance that would equip me for stress. What I’ve learned since, through advanced training, is that all parts of experience are integrated, connected, and inseparable. Technical mastery, however it’s developed, blends seamlessly into presence, which blends seamlessly into awareness, which blends seamlessly into my inner life in the moment of performance. Preparation occurs in a different context than performance, but in both contexts, I’m looking for that wholeness, that integration of experience that brings all of me onboard and into the circumstances in front of me. This unity of experience could be grouped under “play,” though I suspect it extends deeper and wider than that word suggests.
I look for the same subjective qualities in my work — as actor, as teacher, as coach — as I do in my students’. Specifically: am I coming from a place of ownership, even in imperfection or incompleteness? am I curious rather than following a map? am I breathing? am I allowing this experience to change me, even as I create it? At this point, I think I’ve developed a sensitivity for when these overlapping forces are not in play, though I also think most of us possess that same sensitivity (to differing degrees).
When work in myself is blocked or resisted, I feel a sort of alienation or disembodiment from it; when I see that blockage or resistance in others, I feel a sympathetic response that tells me something’s not quite right, that the experience I’m receiving is removed, put on, or tentative. As an accent coach and teacher, my work with these resistances often comes back to finding ownership through curiosity, using whatever tools I can, in the room, with my student. I wish I had learned to play the oboe with a like-minded curiosity, as opposed to aiming to execute music as a series of mechanical gestures. I remain grateful, though, for the many ways in which my Carmina Burana experience shaped all that followed — and for the lessons that it’s still teaching me!
Last week, you mentioned your “monkey” and your “robot.” Tell us more about those terms, especially for those of us who may not know what that means. How do those qualities manifest in your teaching? How do they manifest in your students’ work? Are there any specific ways you’ve found a balance, in either your work or your students’, that you find particularly effective?
JEREMY: Well, the “monkey/robot” trope is something I picked up in the Knight-Thompson certification– a handy, evocative way of talking about different ways of knowing things. My “monkey” is the part of me that enjoys rolling around on the floor and making funny noises. It’s the part that cracks jokes in class. It’s the part that asks fewer “serious” questions and enjoys impulsive, playful doing. My “robot” is the part that researches, analyses, asks questions and looks for right answers. Both of these characters can be described in so many ways– I’m always thinking, “Yes, that’s true…and also…” when I try to pin them down. But you probably get the gist.
As a Very Serious Child, the robot feels safe as a persona. It’s also limiting for me (as a teacher, as a person) when I stay there for too long. The monkey feels riskier and takes some practice for me, but it can be really, really satisfying.
Striking a balance between the monkey and the robot is a big part of my teaching journey. Individual students are more monkey-like or robot-like. Whole groups of students can also lean one way or another. My job is to recognize their differences and try to respond to their needs. That’s a tricky game, because none of us is pure monkey or pure robot. Sometimes the robots need a robot interface to follow along, but sometimes they need a monkey to take the wheel in order to grow. The monkeys get sad if I run a class with no monkey business, but sometimes they need a robot to help them work strategically and with rigor.
This term, I’ve started letting my students see “behind the curtain” with this issue, just as Phil, Andrea, and Erik did in the certification. The students can just tell from the beginning that I have a sophisticated robot, but I have been paying special attention to the monkey at the beginning of the term, and stating explicitly that humor is important in the work. I cop to the fact that voice and speech work in my class can sometimes get a little heavy or precious, and I invite my students to help me combat that by bringing their senses of humor to class with them. It’s a work in progress, but it does feel– so far– like this semester is flowing better than previous ones.
So, Readers, what do you think? Where do you see traces of the Great Monkey v. Robot Debate of 2016 in your work or teaching? What sorts of strategies do you use to facilitate the different learning approaches of your students? Are these issues in any way related to your experience of performance, speech, or accents?
Let us know in the comments below!