Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Good Ideas

I miss the challenge of scholarship sometimes. By that I mean, the challenge of professors.

Oh, I complain about academia as much as the next guy. I have a healthy disdain for ivory towers, and joke about my "English professor look" whenever I don my tweed sports coat. I mock 'em, I laugh at 'em. But that's part of the joy.

A good professor is a whetstone. He or she is there to be drawn against, bringing their students to a sharpened edge of knowledge and (hopefully) wisdom. My favorite college professor once remarked that it is ideal for the students to surpass the master. It doesn't seem possible, that a student could become more able in his field than the guy teaching him. But indeed it is the synergy of a student's raw talent and drive and the professor's command of a subject and passion that result in an accomplished professional.

And just as you build up static electricity by rubbing two fabrics together, a student coming into contact -- even conflict -- with a professor results, ideally, in a charge of energy waiting to be released upon the world.

When I think of the people who most impacted my life, the teachers are most widely represented. There's that high school chemistry teacher who challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and take on a subject that I cared very little about. There's Tommie Webb, the absolute best drama teacher a kid could ever ask for. There's my college humanities teacher, who did more to challenge my assumptions on the subject of religion than anyone else before or since.

And there's Dr. Pat Farmer. I haven't said much publicly about the man in the past (muffle muffle) years. I've been following "Thumper's Law" if you will. But I have come to appreciate lessons learned from Dr. Farmer and the sense of professionalism he attempted to instill -- perhaps a bit too aggressively -- into us kids. There are things he taught me that I use to this day as a director and occasional actor.

The curious thing about Dr. Farmer -- my relationship with him as an obstinate, rebellious student; what I may perceive as his shortcomings as an educator -- curiously, the whole ball of wax has made me a better person. Having someone to push against, to come into conflict with, to disagree and agree with, helped mold me as a theatre professional. So whatever my personal opinions of the man, I hope that he understands that I do respect him.

Another professor I've discovered is Scott Walters. His blog Theatre Ideas is one of my regular haunts. I was planning on launching into a blog response to one of his earlier blog postings. (He asks, "Is there a way to move the arts into another type of economy?" As if it's possible to be a part of society and divorced from society's trappings at once. Only an academic could come up with that.) But before I got carried away, I thought I would take the time to say how much I appreciate Walters, Partridge, Eakins, Strain, Webb, Watts, and even Farmer. A fellow doesn't get any smarter in an echo chamber. Thank you for the challenge.

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