What keeps teens coming back to their phones are the very things that happen in theatre. For example, what makes the “liking” feature on Instagram so compelling is an aspect of human nature: humans are hardwired to respond to reinforcements.37 The “likes” we accumulate on a posted selfie keep us wanting to post more selfies. This reinforcement makes us feel better about ourselves. We like to be recognized for the things that we do, or in this case, post online. These same reinforcements happen in theatre. After each performance, actors get applause. It is this recognition that keeps us coming back to the stage.
However, in order to get the applause, we must feel brave and secure enough in our identities to deeply delve into the process of theatre. If my students are stuck in the relentless cycle of posting idealized images and comparing themselves to others idealized images, it is likely that their self-esteem will plummet. Hypothetical walls are built that seal off their vulnerability, inhibiting themselves from being able to take risks in improvisation theatre exercises that build skills. In order to break these walls down, students must come face to face with how they were built in the first place.
Theatre is storytelling. And I think if teachers took a moment to listen to their students, they may discover that they are itching to tell the story about the role that social media plays in their lives. Victoria, Riley, and Sophia from the book American Girls pointed me to this hypothesis. Victoria shares, “I am so excited to be talking about this, because we never talk about social media, we just live on it.”38 The girls then go on to explain that it feels as if they live in two different worlds, that all they do all day is talk about what has happened on their phones “but we never talk about how weird that is.”39
If theatre holds a mirror up to society, then why aren’t we seeing more theatre created around the significance of social media for this generation? How can we take advantage of our students’ longing to discuss the strangeness of their dual lives? This is the opportunity that theatre can seize upon. By giving my students the space to explore their lives on social media through theatre exercises, perhaps they can develop an awareness of their virtual lives. And through this awareness, maybe they can identify the parts of their virtual lives that make them feel worthy or unworthy? Brave or fearful? Willing to take risks or holding back?
Kristin Linklater, one of the best-known teachers of voice production for actors, captures some of my own feelings about education, “Not a teaching day goes by without receiving some small or large revelation about the complexity, resilience, and mystery of the human experience and its reflection in the voice.”40 She discovered through her teaching that our individual human experiences impact our ability to fully use our voices. Smartphones, social media, and the digital world is a human experience touching each of my students’ lives--one that shapes the way they think, act, and interact with the world around them. Athena in the book iGen supports this, explaining that she believes that cellphones have affected their speech: “Sometimes it makes us, like, aliens. We don’t know how to talk to people anymore.”41 I believe that the communal and reflective nature of the art of theatre is a place where my students can:
- unpack their relationships with social media,
- discuss the differences between their voices in the digital world and the natural world, and
- devise a piece of theatre that illuminates the smartphone as an extension of the human body and what that means for us all in this new world.
Linklater Technique and Creative Blocks
For centuries storytelling has been used to pass down lessons, family lore, and important moments in history, and to highlight the injustices of the world. This is the heart of theatre. It holds a mirror up to nature. The hope is that audiences leave the theater questioning their role in the world. Theatre artists play an important role in making this happen. Transforming the voice and body to create characters that are authentic and emotionally full is the key to illuminating stories for the stage.
Lee Strasberg’s Method Technique and the Stanislavski System are two of the most popular training systems for actors. While these techniques help actors tune into the emotional world of a character, they are missing a practice in external skills. For this unit, we will look to Kristin Linklater’s vocal technique. Her technique seeks to create a bridge between “the creative, imaginative inner life and the skillful outer communicative one.”42
Most people are equipped with the capability to use their voice to express emotions and thoughts. Linklater argues that there are emotional and psychological blocks that limit the full range of voice. These blocks appear as a result of simply living and they are formed unconsciously. I liken this to the given circumstances of birth. People do not get to choose how they are born; however, these uncontrollable factors affect a person psychologically through outside influences. These blocks are formed through mental and emotional habits unconsciously created as a coping mechanism to function in society. For example, if a female child is told repeatedly to act and talk “like a girl”, they could unconsciously create a habit to tamp down feelings of anger or loud excitement in order to appear controlled and “ladylike”. Linklater suggests that these habits create tension, and this tension interferes with a person’s ability to fully use their voice. The person is unable to connect to the “the primitive sources of laughter, sorrow, anger, and joy.”43 The question that this unit will explore further is whether people create emotional blocks to deal with feelings of inadequacy garnered from comparing oneself to the idealized lives of others displayed through social media postings.