The Heart of Teaching
Empowering Students in the Performing Arts
The Heart of Teaching is a book about teaching and learning in the performing arts. Its focus is on the inner dynamics of teaching: the processes by which teachers can promote—or undermine—creativity itself. It covers the many issues that teachers, directors and choreographers experience, from the frustrations of dealing with silent students and helping young artists ‘unlearn’ their inhibitions, to problems of resistance, judgment and race in the classroom,.
Wangh raises questions about what can—and what cannot—be taught, and opens a discussion about the social, psychological and spiritual values that underlie the skills and techniques that teachers impart. Subjects addressed include:
- Question asking: which kinds of questions encourage creativity and which can subvert the learning process.
- Feedback: how it can foster both dependence and independence in students.
- Grading: its meaning and meaninglessness.
- Power relationships, transference and counter-transference
- The pivotal role of listening.
The Heart of Teaching speaks to experienced teachers and beginning teachers in all disciplines, but is particularly relevant to those in the performing arts, from which most of its examples are drawn. It brings essential insight and honesty to the discussion of how to teach.
Stephen Wangh is a playwright, director and acting teacher. He has taught at Naropa University and Emerson College (https://files.nyu.edu/sw1/public/), and is Arts Professor Emeritus at New York University. He is the author of An Acrobat of the Heart: A physical approach to acting inspired by the work of Jerzy Grotowski.
‘Stephen Wangh tackles an important but rarely discussed aspect of performance teaching. He brings a particular set of hard-won insights based on extensive teaching and personal experience, and doesn’t shy away from teasing out the difficult personal lessons drawn from that experience.’ – Anthony Jackson, University of Manchester, UK
‘…readable, interesting and makes a useful contribution to education and training…Wangh is interested in the inner dynamics of teaching and the processes by which teachers can promote – or undermine – creativity. So he discusses ways of bringing out diffident students or helping those who need to, to shed some of their inhibitions and learn to be more open-minded. He is also strong on dealing with matters such as race, judgment and resistance – all issues which apply to performing arts teaching at any stage or level. So there’s something here for drama teachers of all sorts. I was especially taken, given what noisy places many classrooms are, with his thoughts about listening and silence.’ – Susan Elkin,The Stage, UK
'In his 40-plus years of teaching actors, Stephen Wangh has admirably earned the title of Master Teacher. I have had the pleasure of experiencing his mastery in a variety of contexts and can attest to his extraordinary yet humble ability to empower students...The Heart of Teaching seems to me an invaluable guide as well as an essential provocation. Not only is it a welcome and timely one, but more importantly one that is able to provide inspiration and encouragement when teachers inevitably face the 'travails' of teaching.' – Bryan Brown, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training
'[The] process of empowerment cannot be reduced to a series of pedagogical steps to be mastered and applied uniformly to every student. On the contrary, every student's circumstances are unique, constituting only an invitation to improvise within a student-oriented framework, and Wangh guarantees nothing. The author is as forthcoming about his mistakes and failures as he is about his successes. No doubt his success is due, in part, to innate ability and an empathic personality. But Wangh's teaching is also marked by a generosity of spirit, humility, and compassion, and his reflections on teaching certainly reward the reading.' Scott Phillips, Theatre Topics
'As someone who experienced Wangh’s teaching firsthand as an undergraduate acting student and having since dedicated myself to theatre historiography and performance studies, I found a strong resonance in the pedagogical philosophy expressed within The Heart of Teaching. Simultaneously recognizable and surprising, the scenarios and tactics Wangh discusses will challenge new and seasoned teachers to continue playing and experimenting with the art of pedagogy.' — Will Daddario, TDR: The Drama Review