Tuesday, May 24, 2005

subterranean silence

While walking from Smoo to the Sookdae-ipgu subway station, I encountered two of my students, one of whom I don't know very well because she's been skipping so much. We chatted a bit and parted ways after a hundred meters.

The next student was none other than Z.

Z's English needs a hell of a lot of help, and it's going to take far more than six weeks of drama class to do the trick. I tried making small talk with her, but we didn't get very far. Every time I asked her even the simplest of questions, she would smile and then either mumble or go silent. This was frustrating as hell.

It turned out we were headed the same way on Line 4, so we spent ten minutes saying little to each other during the subway ride. Again, I tried some small talk, but Z didn't seem to understand what I was saying. I gave up and accepted the inevitable silence.

Earlier that day, Z was in drama class. We were practicing a few rudimentary stage combat techniques like how to throw a stage punch, fake a slap to the face, and even launch a roundhouse kick to the stomach. I'd select a student, demonstrate the technique, and then pair everyone off and have them practice the moves. It was great fun, but Z wouldn't come out of her shell enough to do any of the moves with conviction. Her training partner was having trouble containing her exasperation.

I'm trying to adjust my expectations downward when it comes to Z. It's obvious she's not going to change anytime soon, and maybe this is because of poor English skills, strangely dissociative wiring in her head, or any number of factors beyond my ken. Why stress? It's too late in the term to hope for a miracle.

But still, it pains me. Z's acting remains wooden. It doesn't matter what direction I give her; she's a zombified version of Hayden Christensen. Her delivery's a monotone; she's incapable of varying her facial expressions... about the only time she seemed right for a role was when she played the robot daughter in a robot family (long story; don't ask). On top of this, she was the only one who hadn't memorized her lines for today, and she didn't deliver any of those lines without significant prompting. Everything Z does is on time-delay. I challenge anyone to show her the patience I've shown.

One bizarre note from drama class today: one of my other students looked genuinely afraid of me when I got into character and stage-slapped her with a vicious expression. I tried to laugh it off ("It's only acting, guys!"), but I think she was still somewhat frightened*.

I've been trying to encourage the students to act as a team, and they do seem to be getting closer to each other, at least in class. We're not there yet, though: when I tried the "trust" exercise again-- the one where a student in the middle of a tight circle of people allows herself to fall in any direction-- the students all seemed a bit wary, unable to loosen up and allow themselves to fall toward their classmates. I suspect part of the problem here was Z, whose reaction time for everything in life is abysmally slow. No one wanted to fall toward Z, because she'd never push back in time. When it was her turn inside the circle, Z herself wouldn't open up enough to do the exercise correctly. I got in the middle for my own turn, and even I felt more tense than before. Z let me fall two or three times. She did the same to the other students, too.

I've been asking myself what I'd do if Z decided to sign up for a second go-around in drama class. It'd be an understatement to say I have mixed feelings about the prospect.

*Stage slapping generally involves no contact between slapper and slappee. Some brave souls will engage in actual slapping, but that sort of acting is usually reserved for the movies. I personally have a hard time watching movie scenes in which actual slapping occurs. Those scenes stick in my mind pretty vividly. Two occur to me right now: (1) Jack Nicholson slapping the hell out of Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown," and (2) Ed Harris powerfully slapping Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's face twice in "The Abyss." I'm talking about the resuscitation scene. MEM actually breaks character-- she's supposed to be unreactive because she's nearly dead, but she squeezes her eyes shut in anticipation of Harris's blows. Very painful to sit through.


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