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Schools are a good place for teaching selflessness and putting others first, says Rob Dougherty. Learning how to give others feedback is a good place to start this lesson. That is why Dougherty insists his students learn how to be a good audience.
In order for people to accept risks and learn, they have to be in an environment of equality, he explains. "No one is more important than me and no one is less important than me."
He sums this up with the expression "equality within" and puts a sign saying so on the classroom door. The lesson of how to be an audience begins in drama class but it extends to everything students do. "Once you have learned how to listen and respond generously and respectfully, you can use that in other classes, with your family at home and with your friends outside school."
Dougherty begins the year by emphasizing the basis of study is not from a textbook; in drama, the subject is people. What people do—how they behave—is connected to their feelings and emotions. To do drama effectively, students have to learn to be able to understand and respect the feelings and emotions of others. They need to understand the language of bodily behaviour so they can learn to use it. That only comes from interaction, says Dougherty.
As a result, the surprising lesson for students is that learning to perform and learning to be an audience can't be separated. And learning to be an audience means developing strong listening skills and strong feedback skills.
He uses the "two stars and wish" approach. All feedback includes two items of praise and one wish that the person might have done something differently or better. Dougherty insists that the feedback be framed as a wish. He also makes regular use of applause in class.
He does not criticize students for failing to live up to the standards of support required of them. Instead, if students are not actively supporting one another or not paying attention to others' efforts, he will stop the class and simply ask, "Is this an example of equality within?"
The students can tell when their behaviour as an audience conveys interest and support so that performers feel safe and are willing to take risks. This message is reinforced with trust exercises. For example, every person in a circle presents a gesture or a tableau, and the others indicate their support by reproducing it.
"Sometimes students come back after they have left my class and tell me that they miss not having that equality within," says Dougherty. "I ask them, how can you help create it where you are now?"