Inspiring Quotations

You cannot teach anyone anything…

In 1988, while I was training to be an EFL teacher, I came across a quotation from Galileo Galilei:

You cannot teach anyone anything;
you can only help them to find it within themselves.

Galileo Galilei

As a motivational quote it’s easy to dismiss as being either platitudinous, or (if one chooses to be pedantic) quite simply wrong. But despite (or perhaps because of) these objections the essence of the quotation stuck in my mind, and for many years I trotted it out from time to time, although I have to confess I often mangled it to say more precisely what I understood it to mean:

We cannot teach anyone anything; we can only create the conditions in which things are learned.

George Dillon

Of course, the Galileo quotation came up during my training as a stimulus to trainee teachers to think about a student-centred approach to teaching and, in the EFL world at least, this remains the predominant philosophy. Given the pressure of a packed timetable, however, the reality is that teachers will often be thinking “what am I doing next” rather than “what will the students be doing”.

Perhaps because I was, and am, primarily a performer I approach the classroom in a similar way to performance – that first and foremost I want my students/audience to be engaged, stimulated, moved and inspired. I’m not too concerned with what message they actually take from my work, as long as they are interested and touched, and go away wanting to come back for more.

Whether I am working with adults who have already been studying English for many years and can quickly become bored with book-based grammar lessons, or GCSE students who have opted for drama because they thought it was a soft option (!!!) I have always tried to make the experience both fun and challenging, trusting that the students WILL learn. And while I sometimes have the feeling that I’m not really ‘doing it right’ – that I should be planning more precisely for more specific teaching aims – I am greatly reassured by the feedback I get from students and teachers, that my work works!

But I also think Galileo’s philosophy extends beyond teaching, and with a little adjustment can be understood to make an important point about the creative process. On reflection and perhaps somewhat hubristically, I think I still actually prefer my slightly mangled version, as (in my mind at least) it connects the role of the teacher with the role of the creative artist. I believe that creativity happens by happy accident, not by design: that creative discovery is the unpredictable result of a process and not a target to be achieved. In setting out to do creative work, it is best not to focus too directly on the end result, but to think about the process – how you can create the conditions in which you can be creative. Or to put it another way: – Don’t think about creating a new work; think about how to set up the conditions in which work will be created.

“Psychic projection” – Steven Berkoff

Another quote from Berkoff’s Three Theatre Manifesto which appeared together with his adaptations of Kafka’s The Trial and Metamorphosis when they were first published (in Gambit vol 8 no 32), and now very hard to find.

I first read this when I was a student, and the term ‘psychic projection’ stuck in my mind. What on earth did he mean? I have since experienced a feeling of exercising it myself – of having the sensation (perhaps self-delusional) of projecting not only my voice but something more directly into the audience’s minds.

I sometimes read this out during workshops, usually in answer to questions at the end, when I’m asked whether I would consider doing naturalistic acting or what type of acting I prefer:

“Actors are required today to be natural and real, with less use of their skills in the imaginative expression of their work, but using more of their skill for non-skills in imitating regional accents, being a worker or a member of the upper classes. The real skills of psychic projection, demoniacal power, movement, acrobatics, mime or wide vocal range are now barely needed. Fidelity to reality has become the criterion of excellence. We have moved from illumination to deception.

Extract from “Three Theatre Manifestos.” (1978) Gambit vol.32 p.7-21

“They marry and produce strange offspring.” – Steven Berkoff

In the first publication of Berkoff’s The Trial and Metamorphosis there also appeared his Three Theatre Manifestos. I once asked Steven why these were not included in later editions – was there, perhaps, some copyright issue, or maybe the publisher (or Steven himself) regarded them as somehow unworthy – a young theatre-maker’s attempts to emulate Artaud? He couldn’t recall! Whatever the reason, it is a great pity that they are not still widely available, as they contain many articulate flashes of inspiring brilliance, such as this passage, on the vital role that music plays in the devising process:

“Music was (and is) an integral part of the rehearsal process, not as a background but as a vital component structuring the scenes, providing infinite inspiration, making us aware of moods sometimes in opposition to the text, sometimes provoking new thoughts, often creating the thought in the first place.

It makes us aware of motion and space, and it takes us more into the unconscious world when it is coupled with the text. They marry and produce strange offspring.”

Steven Berkoff. Extract from “Three Theatre Manifestos.” (1978) Gambit vol.32

I always try to remember to read this quote in my workshops and the final sentence in particular has strongly influenced my own working methods over the last twenty years and more.

“It is not the critic who counts.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Here’s a short passage which I have been reciting in my workshops for a few years to impress on students the importance of being positive and constructive when giving feedback to their peers:

“It is not the critic who counts; not one who points out how the strong stumble, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends themself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Extract from the speech – “CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC – The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt (26th US President) at The University of Paris, Sorbonne on 23rd April 1910 (adapted to be gender neutral).