Teaching Is Learning

By Ira Seidenstein

July 4, 2013

Teaching is not easy. Every teacher needs to question their self, daily. BKS Iyengar has written a fine book on teaching called “The Tree of Yoga”. A teacher needs to provide an honest history of any subject that they offer. Professionally many practitioners of theatre and performance skills recognized long ago that my method was unusually potent. Thus, I have always insisted that anyone who studies with me should also be sure to have at least one other teacher besides me. Usually I am really talking about them getting at least a movement teacher since I feel that movement can be more transparent than many aspects of acting, clown or theatre. Most often my recommendation or the actor’s recognition of what they should study in terms of movement comes about from our conversation. Usually I recommend one of the three general areas of; dance, yoga or martial arts.
Additionally since I recognized the strength of what and how I taught, I made sure to always have at least a movement teacher myself as well as a mentor. Some of my mentors have included Guillermo Keys-Arenas and Antoine Saleh who have since passed away. Other mentors include Harry Haythorne, MBE and Cletus Ball. 
In my own journey it has been the case that my mentors, many teachers, and a much greater number of my own students have become good friends.
I have never tried nor have I ever taught anyone ‘everything they knew’. A teacher needs to recognize that no matter how young (or old), or how inexperienced (or experienced) a person is when they come to learn from you, each individual brings you a gift. You are not a teacher unless you have learners. Additionally no matter who comes before you in your class or studio, each individual brings knowledge and experience (life and professional) that you do not possess. 
True teaching is less about being an expert imparting knowledge than it is about facilitating a self-discovery of awakening and self-empowerment in each individual who stands in your class or studio.
In acting I have noted that most schools and teachers of acting are really trying to clone or create an actor to become a ‘red rose’. Why? There are a thousand variations of roses. Additionally there are thousands of other types of flowers so why a rose at all? And why not weeds which are an important part of any ecosystem. So too for acting. There are likely a million varieties of ‘actor’ and many ‘weeds’ become stars in acting. 
One of my most influential teachers, mentors, and friends was Peter Dittrich who taught me sociology and his version of political science. He said that his greatest satisfaction as a teacher was when a former student visited and that former student won an argument. Likewise in the performing arts each student ideally should exceed their teacher in some capacity. We see this in a sport such as gymnastics as each generation at each olympiad exceeds what their coaches had never even dreamed.
In acting, there are improvements in many technicals aspects of theatre. But one of the trends is what I term ‘the scientology of acting’ that means that even though technically the well trained actors today can ‘do anything well’ they seem to be empty or void of an enriched, enlivened personality.  In other words it seems that as the techniques for teaching acting have developed (not necessarily improved) there is also something missing from the gestalt of many good, technically proficient, successful professional actors. There is something cold and empty on the stage. I think the musical performers have, generally speaking, the better understanding of acting, performance, physical and vocal technique than the average actor, clown, or physical performer. Really dancers exceed the ability of most so called ‘physical performers’. 
One has to continually question the processes and methodologies and the beliefs in the performing arts. 
That questioning is as important for the teacher as for the learner.
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Ira Seidenstein