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Actor Coaching: Talking Performance into Being

Syler, Claire (2016) Actor Coaching: Talking Performance into Being. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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What does it mean to coach actor(s) on a monologue or scene? Directors and teachers of acting have long referred to the practice of “actor coaching,” yet, despite an omnipresence in the field, there is virtually no theorization of the activity. So, how do coaches use language, dramatic text, and embodiment to communicate knowledge and develop performance? This study forges an interdisciplinary framework that uses theatre and performance studies scholarship and Vygotskian-based sociocultural learning theory, a subfield of the learning sciences, to examine the multimodal talk of a seasoned acting instructor over the course of a university-level acting class. Employing ethnographic methods, data drew from observations, written fieldnotes, analytical memos, interviews with the participants, and roughly twenty-five hours of digital video footage, which formed the chief data set. To examine the video corpus, and to locate the instructor’s coaching register, the study relied on interaction analysis, sociolinguistic methods of register analysis, and prior research on the language of sports coaching. Analyzing the instructor’s talk, as it emerged over time and interactivity, revealed four gross registers of actor coaching, which were enacted in varying participatory frames and coalesced to create implicit participatory norms. In turn, these norms served to reduce the asymmetrical power dynamics inherent in actor coaching and teaching, reify the constitutive ‘rules’ of realistic performance, and cultivate dialogic interactions that required a partial perspective taking from the coach, character, and/or student standpoint. Linguistic analysis of the coaching register yielded a repertoire of discursive moves (questions of knowing, eventcasts, telegraphic utterances) the instructor contingently issued to challenge and develop performance, as well as maintain student motivation. Functionally, actor coaching demanded the student reside within a space of public attention, communicational interplay, affect, metacognition, performance, and revision. The study concludes by theorizing actor coaching as situated in cultural-historical settings that privilege particular performance traditions and texts, dialogically dependent upon communicative interaction and co-perspective taking, and guided by a coach’s scaffolded language use. As a theory-building project, the study suggests that actor coaching is a significant disciplinary resource for theatre studies and worthy of future analysis.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Syler, Clairesyler@pitt.eduSYLER
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee MemberForman, Elliceellice@pitt.eduELLICE
Committee CoChairMcConachie, Brucebamcco@pitt.eduBAMCCO
Committee CoChairWaldron, Jenniferjwaldron@pitt.eduJWALDRON
Committee MemberGranshaw, Michellemkg31@pitt.eduMKG31
Date: 3 October 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 May 2016
Approval Date: 3 October 2016
Submission Date: 9 May 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 189
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: theatre, pedagogy, actor coaching, sociolinguistics
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2016 19:25
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:33


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