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Teaching students age 6 to 80

posted by School of Theatre on Tue, Sep 20, 2011
in School of Theatre

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By MaryBeth Cavanaugh, associate director of the School of Theatre

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One of my earliest experiences at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre was a class I taught for an open house that involved teaching movement techniques to people of all ages. As I entered the class I saw a girl about 6 and an 80-year-old woman. I was completely taken aback at the situation before me. I'd taught young children and adults and professional actors/dancers, but never in the same space at the same time. Movement classes by their nature force people to stretch their boundaries and get outside  their comfort zones. In my experience, the social makeup and experience levels of the group (whether college students, K-8, etc...) would invariably dictate the degree to which the students would explore and challenge themselves. Now I was facing a generational spectrum I'd never seen in any class, anywhere. I forced a smile as I took my place and muttered quietly, "This is going to be rough." 

The students, I noticed, seemed completely at ease and eager to begin the class. And so I simply launched into the lesson plan, and felt immediate relief that the students -- all ages -- were instantly engaged and moved with great enthusiasm and commitment. There was no obvious generational discomfort; there was no self-segregation by age or sex or race or aptitude; everyone moved and worked as a group, as a community. The students displayed none of the trepidation I initially felt, and I will never forget watching a 6- and 80-year-old doing triplets together across the floor. They were moving in unison, as members of a community.  

What sets the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre apart is its unique and inclusive student body. They play as important a role as any teacher or any curriculum. They enter the classes as members of a community. They challenge and accept their classmates -- inclusive of age, race or experience.  Everyone learns, everyone is challenged as much as they want to be, and everyone is accepted.   

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