American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
In the Quick Chat series, we dive into the life and times of APT's finest. Each interview will supply insights ranging from the obviously relevant to the vaguely strange. This week features Education Director and Core Company Actor David Daniel.
APT: How did you get into acting and education, and how do the two fit together?
David Daniel: My mother and father were actors so I suppose that it started at home. Rehearsing and performing plays was a big part of my life growing up. When I joined the Army I already had a strong belief and working knowledge in the power of theatre to affect people. When I became a training NCO in Germany my outcome objectives were clearly defined by Army regulations, but how the unit got there was up to me. I began to incorporate theatre techniques in an effort to more effectively train my unit. Not only did I find success, but I became interested in exploring more of the possibilities of, not teaching theatre, but using theatre to teach.
APT: What’s your favorite part about going to work in schools? What’s the most challenging?
DD: Teachers cherish 'aha!' moments. Teachers are gifted (if not touched with the best kind of crazy) at wading through all the criteria, outcomes, timetables, and outside (and occasionally, unqualified or unreasonable) mandates to connect with their students and guide their journey in exploring knowledge. I'm not a teacher. As a Teaching Artist (a term I use specifically), I love the 'oh' moments. The moments when a student not only has the knowledge but the beginnings of empathy.
"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
And as for, 'what's the most challenging?'- it all is.
APT: Where do you find the inspiration for your workshops?
DD: Everywhere. And there are different 'directions' of inspiration- the HOW kind where ideas pop up for techniques or frames for the actual doing of the workshop, the WHAT kind that centers on the plays themselves, the WHY kind that gets at the big ideas worth sharing and exploring, and the WHO, WHERE and WHEN can also serve as a spring board for ideas as well. No matter the starting place of the inspiration, it will always feed into something else, which would then connect with another aspect, which then loops back into the original starting point – it becomes very synergized. I have found inspiration from conversations with actors and designers, playing with and observing students in the classroom, fellow educators, cartoons and NPR....I am a big 'driveway moment' guy. (Note: a “driveway moment” is defined as “The inability to leave one's car after arriving at the destination because of the riveting nature of a story you're listening to on the radio.”)
APT: Do you have a story you’d like to share about a great experience you had with a class?
DD: In As You Like It, the young shepherd Silvius asks, "How many actions most ridiculous/ Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?" To which the old shepherd Corin replies, "Into a thousand that I have forgotten." I have cherished thousands of moments over the years some heartwarming, some heartrending. One, of many, happened at a school in White Lake, Wisconsin. White Lake has a population of less than 400 and is home to about 100 families. The children of those families attend the K-12 school in the town. These students spend most of their young lives with each other and after graduation, most will marry and work in town and pick up where their parents left off. It's a community that has always welcomed me...and I highly recommend the sandwiches and the gas station/deli. On this particular day, the senior students had been given the option of sharing some poems that they had created in groups or pairs or on their own. One of the options had been to write a poem in the style of a letter to your younger self. What would you say, how would you need to hear it, etc. Somewhere midst the sharing of the poems, one or two being quite hilarious I recall, a young lady spoke up and said we had to hear her friend's poem. This is one of the greatest functions of a friend - to embarrass you of course, but to also stand up and tell the world how great you are, and that's exactly what this young lady did for her friend. After a bit of cajoling from the rest of her friends she pulled out a notebook and opened up to the poem. A poem, that by not sharing its entirety here, I do a great injustice. She had written a letter to herself just a short while ago. She encouraged her younger self to spend some extra time with her dog before she walked out the door. To go looking for him...even if he didn't want to be found... and to hold him and tell him how much you love him. It was a beautiful piece of writing, spoken with the simplicity of wisdom and experience, and as she finished, the class sat silently, most in tears, all connected with a pet or friend or family that they had lost. And for that moment - that brief moment - she was truly a poet.
She took our silence as failure and apologized that it wasn't very good. The class immediately erupted into support and thanks and congratulations and wonder and praise and awe and a million other sentiments.
We all of us strive for connection, to feel we are a part of those around us. And that moment will always remind me of what it's all about.
APT: Switching gears a bit, you’re also doing some work with prisoners. Can you tell us a little about that?
DD: With the support of the Prison Ministry Project, I was able to do a series of poetry workshops with inmates at the Fox Lake Men’s Prison in the spring and fall. It was a combination of classroom-type exercises and sharing of our favorite poetry. Many of the men I met in prison are poets themselves, who shared their work with me and with the group. We are currently working on a plan to go back to Fox Lake in April and work on a play this time.
APT: Thanks! Anything else you’d like to add?