awareness | approval-and-disapproval


To observe without evaluation is the highest form of human intelligence.

J. Krishnamurti



The first step towards playing is feeling personal freedom. Before we can play (experience), we must be free to do so. It is necessary to become part of the world around us and make it real by touching it, seeing it, feeling it, tasting it, and smelling it- direct contact with the environment is what we seek. It must be investigated, questioned, accepted or rejected. The personal freedom to do so leads us to experiencing and thus to self-awareness (self -identity) and self-expression. The hunger for self -identity and self-expression, while basic to all of us, is also necessary for the theater expression.

Very few of us are able to make this direct contact with our reality. Our simplest move out into the environment is interrupted by our need for favorable comment or interpretation by established authority. We either fear that we will not get approval, or we accept outside comment and interpretation unquestionably. In a culture where approval/disapproval has become the predominant regulator of effort and position, and often the substitute for love, our personal freedoms are dissipated.

Abandoned to the whims of others, we must wander daily through the wish to be loved and the fear of rejection before we can be productive. Categorized "good" or "bad" from birth (a "good" baby does not cry too much) we become so enmeshed with the tenuous treads of approval/disapproval that we are creatively paralyzed. We see with others' eyes and smell with others' noses.

Having thus to look to others to tell us where we are, who we are, and what is happening results in a serious (almost total) loss of personal experiencing. We lose the ability to be organically involved in a problem, and in a disconnected way, we function with only parts of our total selves. We do not know our own substance, and in the attempt to live through (or avoid living through) the eyes of others, self-identity is obscured, our bodies become mis-shapened, natural grace is gone, and learning is affected. Both the individual and the art form are distorted and deprived, and insight is lost to us.

Trying to save ourselves from attack, we build a mighty fortress and are timid, or we fight each time we venture forth. Some in striving with approval/disapproval develop egocentricity and exhibitionism; some give up and simply go along. Others, like Elsa in the fairy tale, are forever knocking on windows, jingling their chain of bells, and wailing, "Who am I?" In all cases, contact with the environment is distorted. Self-discovery and other exploratory traits tend to become atrophied. Trying to be "good" and avoiding "bad" or being "bad" because one can't be "good" develops into a way of life for those needing approval/disapproval from authority and the investigation and solving of problems becomes of secondary importance.

Approval/disapproval grows out of authoritarianism that has changed its face over the years from that of the parent to the teacher and ultimately the whole social structure (mate, employer, family, neighbors, etc. ).

The language and attitudes of authoritarianism must be constantly scourged if the total personality is to emerge as a working unit. All words which shut doors, have emotional content or implication, attack the student-actor's personality, or keep a student slavishly dependent on a teacher's judgment are to be avoided. Since most of us were brought up by the approval/disapproval method, constant self-surveillance is necessary on the part of the teacher-director to eradicate it in himself so that it will not enter the teacher-student relationship.

The expectancy of judgment prevents free relationships within the acting workshops. Moreover, the teacher cannot truly judge good or bad for another, for there is no absolutely right or wrong way to solve a problem: a teacher of wide past experience may know a hundred ways to solve a particular problem, and a student may turn up with the hundred and first! This is particularly true in the arts.

Judging on the part of the teacher-director limits his own experiencing as well as the students', for in judging, he keeps himself from a fresh moment of experience and rarely goes beyond what he already knows. This limits him to the use of rote-teaching, of formulas or other standard concepts which prescribe student behavior.

Authoritarianism is more difficult to recognize in approval than in disapproval particularly when a student begs for approval. It gives him a sense of himself, for a teacher's approval usually indicates progress has been made, but it remains progress in the teacher's terms, not his own. In wishing to avoid approving therefore, we must be careful not to detach ourselves in such a way that the student feels lost, feels that he is learning nothing, etc.

True personal freedom and self-expression can flower only in an atmosphere where attitudes permit equality between student and teacher and the dependencies of teacher for student and student for teacher are done away with. The problems within the subject matter will teach both of them.

Viola Spolin, Improvisation for Theatre (1963/1999) 


A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend about parenting, and home schooling in particular, and she was talking about needing to be a good parent, and in fact she wants to be a better parent then her own parents. So I asked: so what makes a good parent? what is good parenting anyways? And she paused, thought about it, and could only give me some rudimentary negations (good parent is not x,y,z) and I said I didn't think it was possible to really continue the conversation without some understanding of what it means to be a good parent. Although I did also say that if good parenting is about affirming the personhood of your children, which she'd kind of implied, then I said that any notion of 'better', including being a better parent, might not actually be in the spirit/logic of affirming personhood, no matter how sincere the thought...