Teachers & Mentors

By Ira Seidenstein

April 4, 2011

Some of my teachers. The first tandem were my lecturers/professors Trudy Scott and Peter Dittrich at the Boyce Campus of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). CCAC had a number of brillant teachers (lecturers/professors) at the time. Trudy saw me acting in a student production in her course. I was seconded by a student who had the double interests of art and theatre. On the last night of the four night season of student directed guerilla theatre, Trudy stopped me as I exited backstage. Asked me what I was studying and I said Sociology (with my main teacher Peter Dittrich).  However, Trudy told me in a word that I “should do theatre” and that she would put me into her next mainstage production. She did and that was that and here we are. I was told by a friend to take lecturer “a” in sociology and not “b”. When it came to registration I mistakenly chose the option my friend told me not to choose. Peter Dittrich was the one I was told not to choose. Seems nonetheless that Peter was the teacher I was meant to chose. He was a god-send. Peter was a master teacher and made the most profound effort to engage with each learner. In my first class he proposed a question and looked at me and asked me what I thought. I told him my ‘answer’. He then asked “Why”? I answered. He asked again “Why”? and this pattern of me answering was repeatedly followed with a “Why”? Until I went deep enough in my own thinking process to discover the more meaningful aspect that Peter was seeking. When I found it I am sure my pupils dilated and “the lights went on at Forbes Field”. He saw this revelation appear and we both smiled and he was so generous in his “Yes” and “well done Ira”. He had shamanically purged something deep inside my intellect that had been dormant probably my whole life. Something similar had actually happened notably once before that I can recall with my senior year (12th grade) English teacher Mr. Welles. That occurred on the day Mr. Welles had the students read sequential text in a Shakespeare play. Something was awakened and ‘the spirit’ (of language and acting) took me and I read with a clarity and fervency uncharacteristic of myself. Again, Mr. Welles heard the “lights go on” and acknowledged it accordingly. My whole journey with the education system is wild and I won’t go into that just now as I am trying really to focus on my theatre teachers. Even though Peter was not a theatre teacher, he had been an actor and was guiding me all the while that I was descending into the abyss of theatre and acting and discovering my creativity and intellectual desire. Peter’s frequent written assignments due every week or two could be either handed in by Friday at 4pm, and not 1 minute after! However, if a student was a minute or more late…. there was a single option. The student could deliver the paper to Peter’s house by midnight on Friday in which case the student also recieved a beer. In my own form of diligence I handed the papers in during the day on Friday. After a few assignments Peter understood something and told me “You know Ira even if you’ve handed in the assignment you are still welcome to come by on Friday for a beer”. From my wild and chaotic experience, I did not automatically trust teachers. I had plenty of wonderful teachers as a youth. But I did not fit into the system, at all. So my view of teachers was tainted and incorrect, generally speaking. Well, I decided to ‘test’ Peter i.e. to see if he was as Hamlet says “Are you honest madam”? So, I dropped by to the home of Peter and his wife. He was pleasantly surprised to see me and asked me right away “Can I get you a beer”? For the next two years, Peter and I had a lot of Friday night beers. Often I had Shabbat dinner with my parents and after would proceed (to drive) to Peter’s. We developed a fantastic Mutt n Jeff buddy relationship. He being a 6 foot 3 inch German with long grey beard, wire rimmed glasses, bald head and me der kleine Yidden mit a full crop of (then) curly black hair. I used to make Peter nearly wet his pants when after about two beers (I was a two-pot screamer i.e. I can’t drink very much) I would do my frightfully accurate imitation of Hitler. Peter had grown up in the shadow of der king of putzes as a youth during WWII and he suffered in multiple ways including being bombed in Hamburg and Berlin and going on a 1000 (or so) miles evacuation march with his mother and brother. Peter was 9 when the war ended. Unfortunately his brother was a bit older and was a Brown Shirt youth who practiced his authority on little brother. Like other children in the bomb shelters, after a bombing raid he had to go out and search the bodies for potatoes, or anything eatable of other value for survival. I have written a bit more about Peter in the blog section “Meetings With Remarkable Clowns’ as it was he who got me to meet the great German/American clownesse Lotte Goslar at the beginning of my journey into clown.
Trudy Scott was a wonderful teacher, theatre person, director and friend. She was ever supportive of my instincts and tried to find the right ways to support my individual journey either with advice or support. In her crew were an exceptional zanny group of young theatre enthusiasts. By the time I joined I think they all had been studying theatre and acting for a year or two or more. There were two professionals in the troupe/group. One, Art Jennings, Jr was a high school English teacher. I think he also had a speciality in special needs education. Art was also a clown, a juggler, a comedian and professional compere to boot. He was the son of a clown Art Jennings, Sr known professionally as “Happy Daze”. Art, Sr was the co-founder of the legendary and important International Juggling Association that was VERY influential to the whole clown, street theatre, busker movement!!! http://www.juggle.org/history/archives/jugmags/39-2/39-2,p5.htmArt, Jr taught me to juggle. …. more anon

Trudy Scott – she had experience as a ‘hoofer’ in musicals. She was born I believe in New Orleans. She encouraged me very early on to go on to my PhD. I did, a few decades later. She was able to combine a classical approach with experimental. It was with her group that we went to The Experimental Theater Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan in May 1975. Trudy chose to bring a large inflatable plastic bubble that became a room that could hold 20-30 people. Initially I didn’t want to go as I had seperated from a girlfriend who was also in the group. At the last second, on my own, I decided to drive to Ann Arbor and see the festival for myself. I did go to see also Trudy’s bubble and went in. She explained that one simply went in and whatever happened happened. I went in and sat down. After only a minute or two a man with long grey hair yet with the top of his head balding. Slim. Came in. Looked around and sat right next to me. He started to talk with me and we talked about things I don’t remember. After about 15 minutes I felt like leaving. When I came out, several people started to ask me what me and the older man had talked about. They informed me that his name was Julian Beck. Not that I knew who he was. http://www.livingtheatre.org/Julian%20Beck.html

At the same festival I went to an event called “Clothes”. This was in a gymnasium. As you went in there was a man on a small podium with a microphone who greeted each person to the effect of “Hi. Come on in and just make yourself comfortable. We be starting in a few minutes. If you feel like taking off your shoes or socks and stretching out feel free to do so.” I sat not far from the entrance. I took off my shoes, and socks and sat down and looked around and started to stretch out a bit….
That fellow was Richard Schechner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Schechner more anon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}


 Subscribe to the ISAAC newsletter to receive updates on Ira's latest blog articles, upcoming international workshops, and more...

__CONFIG_colors_palette__{"active_palette":0,"config":{"colors":{"f8570":{"name":"Main Accent","parent":-1}},"gradients":[]},"palettes":[{"name":"Default Palette","value":{"colors":{"f8570":{"val":"var(--tcb-skin-color-0)"}},"gradients":[]},"original":{"colors":{"f8570":{"val":"rgb(19, 114, 211)","hsl":{"h":210,"s":0.83,"l":0.45}}},"gradients":[]}}]}__CONFIG_colors_palette__
Take me to the subscription form!
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!