Theatre Students Learn Life Skills Through Active Learning.
One of the most common acting exercises in the theatre classroom is the Mirror Exercise.
Students imagine they are looking into a mirror, and taking turns leading their partner while trying to have their movements exactly matched. The goal for students is to be so much in sync that if someone walked into the room they wouldn’t be able to tell who was leading and who was mirroring. If either person is going too slow or too fast, they then speed up or slow down as needed to be better matched.
Students often ask, “Why are we doing this?” Here are a few things a student can learn from this simple exercise. First, people often find it awkward to look into a person’s face without looking away or laughing. So, getting comfortable, with themselves and with their partner, is a challenge. By extension, getting comfortable on stage is also a goal.
Another point: actors must learn to receive information from the other actors in a scene. For every action onstage there is a reaction. One must react to what is happening. It becomes a form of active listening ~ a type of verbal and nonverbal communication skill that promotes mutual understanding. The rules keep it simple for the beginner actor, but those very rules also empower the beginner actor. The skills students build in the Mirror exercise through “active learning” include concentration, relaxation, listening, and reacting, as well as building trust among the participants.
There are many variations of the Mirror Exercise. One that I use to build ensemble in a group is called The Triangle.
Students position themselves in a triangle shape all facing the same direction. The objective is to follow the leader who is at the point of the triangle. But what do you do if you cannot see the leader? Who do you follow? You need to trust the person or people directly in front of you and follow them. As the students find their comfort zone following one leader the teacher says “turn” and as a unified group they all turn to the right and then the leader changes to the student at that point in the triangle. The process begins anew. As the students work together the teacher quietly moves students into the point positions giving each student the opportunity to lead. It can be challenging for all involved. The student leading has to trust that the others will follow and in following the ensemble of students is communicating “we support you” - “you’ve got this.” Students have told me that while it is challenging it is worthwhile to help them focus in preparation for the task at hand in the classroom or the rehearsal room.