Image credit: nican45 at Creative Commons Flickr
Theatre workshops are great for all involved. For the participants it’s a way of learning whilst doing, and in the theatre we all have our own ways of doing the same thing. For the workshop leaders, workshops are jam-packed with valuable lessons on teaching techniques as well as testing their own understanding of the things they’re teaching. So, as I’m currently planning one myself, I’ll offer a few points of wisdom on designing and leading a workshop.
Know your stuff. Probably the most basic and obvious point. As much as the workshop process is a learning experience for a leader, it shouldn’t be about learning the content. A lack of confidence in yourself will be massively amplified when it comes to your participants’ trust in you.
Decide on a demographic. This decision will determine what activities you decide to do with your group, where to hold the workshop and how to advertise it. The demographic should take age and experience in as key factors, plus any others you deem appropriate. For example, it would be unwise to hold a workshop designed for a primary school drama lesson to actors at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Similar principles can be applied, but the delivery style is what will make the workshop a hit or flop.
Choose activities that you understand. If all verbal explanation fails, there’s nothing like showing your group the activity you want them to explore. Again, if you’re reading it step-by-step out of a textbook then you probably won’t be giving the group the biggest confidence in you.
Get stuck in, but stay open. Dictating from a distance is sometimes a patronising and unnerving thing. Getting involved is also a handy way of making up the numbers as well as getting first hand feedback on how things are going. Having said that: be prepared for unforeseen developments that may lead your activities off on a tangent. Whilst this can be caused by an unhelpful distraction, more often than not it’s evidence that your group is learning and willing to explore ideas further. To accommodate for this, be flexible with your itinerary. Should this mean that your workshop may finish later, let loose some of your plans and carry on using the group’s direction, with your input to remind them of where the stimulus for their ideas came from – let their momentum do the work!
Listen. Even though you’ve designed the workshop and know your stuff, you are not a theatre god. People work differently and something as simple as listening to their tone of voice in the activities or on breaks could tell you that your methods need adjusting or that something you did earlier really worked.
Reflect and learn. Teachers are always learning, especially when it comes to teaching methods. The more workshops that you do with differentiating demographics, the more you’ll learn how to approach things with different types of people.
I’m not sure that anybody can ever be the last word in workshop teaching/leading, but it’s easy to get close: be ready to learn as much from your group as they will from you.