Tuesday, January 05, 2010

the whole twitter thing

This is a post I sent out to my acting classes that are starting next week, describing how I'd like to integrate Twitter into the training.

If you have read through the startup post by now (and if you haven't please do ASAP :)), you know that one of the things I asked you to do is to create a Twitter account, and to let me know what your Twitter name is. I imagine that may have been a little surprising.

I thought I would write and tell you a little about where I was coming from with that, and where I am going, or perhaps where we may be going. Recently, I read a remarkable book called Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky . Shirky is an eminent writer on the social implications of digital technology. This book was about the social media revolution: the changes that email, the Internet, Facebook, Myspace, youtube and Twitter have wrought on our world. I heartily recommend it; it is a fascinating and inspiring account of how the way we live now came to be, and the possibilities and dangers of that new way of living. Shirky offers anecdote after amazing anecdote illustrating the ways the new connectedness is making movements and undertakings possible that were never possible before.

Upon reading the book, I naturally began to think about how these social media practices might have an impact on how I teach my class. Around the same time, I wrote a blog piece called 15 minutes a day, describing the process I used for part of writing my dissertation in German literature at Stanford. The idea is that for most people, when they have a significant undertaking, the biggest difficulties are procrastination and the guilt that flows from procrastinating, which in turn spawns more procrastination, and a vicious cycle is set in motion. In the five years of teaching the acting class, it has become clear to me that avoidance of the work for the class during the week can be a significant problem for some people. I present a whole framework for work on a role in the class, and as inspiring as I believe what I am presenting to be, it can be overwhelming at first. The overwhelming-ness can make procrastination attractive, and then the deadlines start to loom, and it's at that point that some people make the choice to withdraw from the class. This is a disappointing outcome for all concerned, and so to attempt to head that off I wrote the "15 minutes a day" blog post, to suggest an approach that, if adopted early on, might prevent this from occurring.

The idea is that you commit to do 15 minutes of work every day on the class. No more work is required if you're not in the mood. 15 minutes is a small enough unit to take the edge of the intimidation that the magnitude of the undertaking can instill. Upon occasion, she might be drawn in by the work, and work longer than 15 minututes, but there is no obligation to do so. (The days when you get together to rehearse with your partners will clearly require some more time, but it's the alone time that tends to be the sticking point) This has the effect of defusing procrastination, keeping the actor in touch with the work on a daily basis(which tends to keep the unconscious mind chewing on it even when you are doing other things), and affirming experientially the fact that bit by bit progress can be made. All of this conspires to change the actor's relationship to his work: the work becomes a familiar, known quantity, rather than a menacing mountain to be climbed at unknown cost and consequence; that is, the work becomes domesticated, it is tamed.

So what does all of this had to do with Twitter? Well, in the class, as you will soon learn, each week I present a short "body work" component, something that takes only a couple of minutes to do a day, and helps to heighten your awareness of various parts of the body and the ways in which we are prone to carry tension in them. To support this work, you have a body work buddy who you contact when you have done your body work for the day. You email, text, or leave a voicemail messssage containing a "mantra" that I assign each week to say that you have done the body work for the day. This has the effect of reinforcing some principle we are working on in the class, through the content of the message, the mantra, for both you and your partner, but through the act of contacting each other, it also helps recall the class and the work associated with it to mind, making it less likely that the demands of daily life keep you from getting to your work. It's a gentle reminder to do the body work.

It occurred to me that we might add Twitter to the mix in the following way: I will create a Twitter List that contains the accounts of all the people in the class (and only those people). It will only be viewable by people in the class. Whenever you do some work for the class, whether it is doing some assigned reading or homework on your role or rehearsing with your partner, you can then tweet about it. This means that any day of the week, you can look at the Twitter list (perhaps when you receive the mantra from your body work partner) and see what other people in the class have been doing, what they have been working on. This, I think, would help people who feel stymied about what the next step to take is in their work. This way, they can see what their colleagues have been up to, and follow their lead or be inspired to go in a different direction. And I think everyone will be supported in their own work by the knowledge that their colleagues are staying involved with their work for the class.

People occasionally express to me disappointment that there is not more of an opportunity to interact with their classmates in the class. If all goes well, you will have a close positive working relationship with your scene partner. The opportunities to connect with others in class, though, while certainly there, are a bit limited. By tweeting with each other during the week, we will increase the sense of connectedness in the group, as well as support each other in staying close to the work. And your own social network will be that much richer upon leaving the class, which, whatever your life goals are, can only be an asset. Also, if you are not a tweeter already, you will have mastered a new form of social networking that I believe is going to be increasingly important in our society in the future.
Of course, it will require some effort from everyone to get this started, and if you don't know Twitter, it may require some courage as well. There isn't a lot to it, but anything new and foreign can require that some inertia be overcome. But I say: cmon in, the water's warm! I think it has the potential to be a great addition to the class.

My Twitter name is @actbetter. Follow me, and I'll follow you back!

How do I create a Twitter account?

Go to twitter.com. Shouldn't take more than two minutes

What is a tweet?

A tweet is a message that you publish on Twitter. The tweet appears on the Twitter pages of those who have subscribed to your tweets ("followed" you). A tweet is limited to 140 characters.

How will I find the Twitter list for the class?

I will send you the URL in short order.

Does this mean I am going to get a bunch of annoying messages to my phone?

No. You can set up your Twitter to send updates to your phone, but that is not the default, so it won't happen unless you go to the extra effort to make it happen.

How can I find out more about Twitter?

As simple as Twitter is, there are lots of ways to amplify it and add bells and whistles. A good primer, you're interested in learning more, can be found here. No obligation though, feel free to keep your Twitter use totally bare bones, if that's what you prefer. But I hope you'll give it a try.

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