An integral part of the AES Fine Arts community is Theater; the high school puts on two shows a year and several theater classes are offered each semester. Needless to say, it has a prominent presence in our school. So, it felt necessary to gain some insight about just how important theater really is from someone who is deeply involved in every aspect of Theater here: Mr. Wesson.
Q: What role do you think the Fine Arts play in our community?
A: A starring role! Support for the arts at AES is strong and getting stronger. I see community members of all ages taking creative risks, having deep discussions and supporting each others' work. Whether a piece of art strikes a chord in someone or not, people are still discussing it with energy. The arts are sharing human experiences and ideas that bounce around like joyful static electricity.
Q: What is one thing we can all learn from theater?
A: Courage is not the absence of fear, it is doing things even though we are afraid.
Or: if you leave your lapel microphone on while backstage and accidentally whisper a curse word everyone will hear it over the loudspeaker, Ananya.
Q: What has been a seminal experience for you at AES?
A: I have had many amazing experiences at AES but the London Theater Trips especially come to mind. Seeing West End shows and talking about them afterward with students is magical. "That was the best thing I've ever seen" gets uttered multiple times on tired Tube rides back to the hotel. After London, the students and I always return brimming with inspiration to make our own work shine.
Q: What does theater bring to our community that is unique from other aspects of the fine arts?
A: Actors memorizing lines and performing them live is (generally) unique to Theater. It is a kind of magic trick to convincingly play a character on stage. There is also a large amount of collaborating with others as a team. Many compare it to the dynamics of a sports team. We need lights, sets, acting, directing, writing, props, costumes, sound cues, marketing, scheduling: each teammate plays their part.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to students who want to pursue an acting career?
A: Make an informed decision before committing to that path. Many who pursue acting professionally get starry-eyed and forget it is like any other profession. You must seek advice from those with experience, use networking opportunities and do thorough research about your possible plan of attack. If after doing careful research you realize, "I would prefer a stable income in another field and just do acting for fun in my free time" that is a good choice as well. When I decided to go for it, I mostly knew what I was getting into.
If you have decided on this path, commit 100%. Where possible, complete advanced acting programs at reputable schools. In business terms, you will become a freelance artist. You will be a small business owner where your product is your art so do some research on marketing. Know what part of the market you are selling to. Utilize feedback. If you keep hearing "Your best work is when you are improvising on camera!" it's a big clue to focus there. Check your ego at the door, deliberately practice how to deal with thousands of rejections and be deliberate about relaxation/non-working hours.
Q: How has theater played a role in shaping your mentality and perspective on the world?
A: Theater continuously helps improve my empathy and understanding of others. A lot of method acting is deep thinking on human behavior and how to express it. It has also helped me with perseverance: the show must go on. Also, to quote Ms. Frizzle, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!". We would not have identified the issue with the lapel microphone if Ananya had not cursed into it backstage because it was a win to find that out in rehearsal. We were not angry, it was hilarious.
Q: What have you learned from your students? How has that influenced your teaching?
A: My students have taught me that structure is important: they like a clear plan but not for me to control every little thing. As a teacher, I am constantly adjusting how much direction to give - everyone learns differently so some need extra support and others just need me to get out of their way.
Q: How have theater and fine arts in general shaped the past, present, and future of our world?
A: Do I have space to write a book here?
Consider what Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: "For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."
Theater helps us reflect, realize and learn. Ananya successfully refrained from cursing over the loudspeaker during the show.
As depicted by Mr. Wesson, Theater is essential and influential to all aspects of life. Not only can it stimulate one’s creativity and vision, but it also helps us better understand and communicate with others. The experience of theater fosters social awareness through getting in touch with our senses and emotions to better communicate with others and understand the world around us.