It still amazes me that the classes that I got B's in during undergrad (which were the worst grades I received) were the ones that I get the most compliments on now: my vocal work and my physical specificity. I think it is because all of that work was simmering and not particularly showing up in the class work, but it did show up like gangbusters in the production work. When "the work" was put into context, I was just fine.
In 1999, I was in a production of Sheila Daniels' adaptation of Anne Sexton's poetry, especially those poems from Sexton's collection, TRANSFORMATIONS. I was cast as several characters, but my main character was that of the Handless Maiden. Sheila could not have been more apt in that casting. It was as if Sheila could "see" the invisible me. Sheila knew that my humanity was hidden. Much like Anne Sexton realized that her humanity was also hidden until her 30s when she discovered her own "hands" and began to write. I love her image of it in her poem "The Maiden Without Hands": "She and Painbringer were so good in the woods/ that her hands grew back./ The ten fingers budding like asparagus,/ the palms as whole as pancakes,/ as soft and pink as face powder./ The king returned to the castle/ and heard the news from his mother/ and then he set out for seven eyars in the woods/ never once eating a thing,/ or so he said,/ doing far better than Mahatma Gandhi./ He was good and kind as I have already said/ so he found his beloved./ She brought forth the silver hands./ She brought forth Painbringer/ and he realized they were his,/ though both now unfortunately whole./ Now the butchers will come to me,/ he thought, for I have lost my luck./ It put an insidious fear in him/ like a tongue depressor held fast/ at the back of your throat./ But he was good and kind/ so he made the best of it/ like a switch hitter./ They returned to the castle/ and had a second wedding feast./ He put a ring on her finger this time/ and they danced like dandies./ All their lives they dept the silver hands,/ polished daily,/ a kind of purple heart,/ a talisman,/ a yellow star."
In Clarissa Pinkola Estes' landmark book WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES: MYTHS AND STORIES OF THE WILD WOMAN ARCHETYPE she writes of the Handless Maiden: "The story pulls us into a world that lies far below the roots of trees. From that perspective we see that "The Handless Maiden" offers material for a woman's entire life process. It deals with most of the key journeys of a woman's psyche. Unlike other tales we have looked at in this work that speak to a specific task or a specific learning taking place over a few days' or weeks' time, "The Handless Maiden" covers a many-years-long journey - the journey of a woman's entire lifetime. So this story is something special, and a good rhythm for assimilating it, is to read it and sit with your Muse, turning it part by part, over a generous period of time." That quote meant something to me when I was 20 years old. I read it and thought, "Yes, that's it...I'm not done learning...and my Muse (theater) will take years, if not my lifetime to understand."
So...I think what I'm trying to say in this blog, is that, we as teachers, instructors, or advisers, can never assume that a student is not learning. "The work" is a process, and when that process is something as illusive as life itself manifesting itself for the stage or screen; we would be fools to think that we are able to magically see that process the same way every time. Some people take longer to process than others.
Dan Donahue, arguably an amazing actor on the modern American stage, has a process that might frustrate some directors who do not know his work, but, those that do, just sit and wait because it is usually the most layered and intricate work out there. However, "the work" doesn't usually show up until the last week of rehearsal, but when "the work" shows up, it is magical to watch, and it makes my little mind wonder, if all processes should be like that...I mean, I was just reading this morning in American Theatre's July/August 2012 edition about a process of Eugene O'Neill's HUGHIE that took over a year, and the director said, when asked if the process would be shorter next time, "You wouldn't rush good sex or a good meal..."
So...to sum up this sort of "invisible" blog, I'm sitting with what is visible and what is invisible, and when are we supposed to "show" that. There should be no should, as far as I can tell. "The work" is "the work" and all of us know when it has landed; it's obvious because it is when "the work" is good, whatever that means, but those of us who "work" know it when we hear or see "it". Like a unicorn...