Personal Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Seth Panitch
Associate Professor of Acting
The University of Alabama

“The Car goes where the Eye goes…”

Every young actor has a dream. This dream consists of equal parts Oscar acceptance speech, various parents eating their words, the sheepish return of an ex- boyfriend or girlfriend, and the accompanying bank account of a small island nation. Unfortunately, this dream rarely includes years of intense training, bulletproof professionalism, courageous self-exploration, or sleeping on the permafrost floor of a friend’s apartment in the Bronx. This is the ultimate challenge of the acting teacher; and indeed of arts teachers the world over: how to convince young artists to relinquish the seductive sirens of these irrelevant dreams for the richer landscape of the eminently attainable: the adventure of a career serving society’s need for shared catharsis, dynamic storytelling, or a simple laugh at the end of a particularly miserable day. Partnering with students through that journey from Serial Dreamer to Working Actor has provided my life’s greatest test, and being a part of that metamorphosis has become my most cherished professional achievement.

When I first came to the University of Alabama, I immediately fell in love with the extraordinary passion of the acting students, but found myself facing two significant obstacles. The first is familiar to all Arts Professors: how do we bridge the gap between training and the profession? The internship of medicine, the clerking of law, these beneficial structures do not exist for us, and yet we have the same sacred responsibility to develop not only the minds of our students, but their future pocketbooks as well. The second challenge was one of geography. For these students, many of whom hail from humble rural communities, there is no regional professional theatre nearby to ignite their young passions. I determined I would have to create projects to transport our students into the professional world itself, in order to provide them the experiences that would not only contextualize their training, but also enable them to compete on equal footing with students from any other University.

To this end, I created “The Bridge Project:” a series of plays I wrote, directed, and produced to enable scores of our students to perform Off-Broadway in successful, well-reviewed productions alongside professional actors. My ongoing partnership with the Cuban Ministry of Culture has spawned opportunities for UA students in four bi-national productions I have directed in Havana, providing them the experience of a lifetime: to work, perform, and live alongside professionals of an entirely different tradition. Next year, the Bridge Project continues with a full length feature film about relations between African- American and white medical students at the historically black Meharry Medical College in 1968, affording my students the thrilling opportunity to hone their on-camera technique beside professional screen actors from New York and Los Angeles.

I am resolved to seek opportunities for my students in my own professional research as well. Through my work as an actor and director at the Colorado, Utah, and Texas Shakespeare Festivals, I have been able to develop partnerships that have directly resulted in our students being hired at those nationally recognized festivals. I have developed a varied network of professional collaborators in New York who consistently attend our NYC Senior Showcase, “Bama on Broadway.” This showcase, which I direct each spring, has jump started the theatre and film careers of scores of our graduates.

This relentless focus on the transition from training to career is paying off significantly for our students. Recent graduates of my classes have starred on Broadway, Off- Broadway, in major regional theatres across the country, in major motion pictures, such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Endless Love, and Old Boy, and on television in The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, 30 Rock, Law and Order, Blue Bloods, and even the recent live production of The Sound of Music on NBC.

These opportunities would be meaningless, of course, without the training to back them up. The actual profession of Acting is brutally variable. I am determined to provide my students with a concrete weapon against the tremendous self-doubt that can accompany that variability: the knowledge that they are skillfully practicing a finely honed technique, that they have something interesting to say, and that when the correct fit of audition and role come their way, they will be able to exploit that possibility to its fullest. The heart of my technique is contained in “Four P’s:” Preparation, Professionalism, Passion, and most importantly, Personality. Most young students ironically fail to grasp that it is their uniqueness, that singular collection of magnificent quirks and quibbles, which constitutes their greatest ammunition in the battle ahead. Therefore, my central task is to relentlessly encourage each student to develop that essential signature. It is a singular thrill to see that recognition on a student’s face: that not only is their own experience valid, it has the power to entertain, challenge, and inspire.

I do not subscribe to any one school of thought to chisel out that personal signature, but to all of them. I have combined Suzuki with Contact Improvisation, collaborated with African Drumming classes, and developed acting improvisational exercises with Jazz musicians, as often as I have employed western “Stanislavski” connective training. If I thought I could get a student closer to their personal singularity through bull riding, I would pick up my copy of Urban Cowboy immediately.

“The Car goes where the Eye goes” is an old auto racing expression. Just as a vehicle tends to carve a path that follows the trajectory of the driver’s eyes, so too does the career of a young student follow the focus of their commitment. My sacred responsibility has been to redirect that young vision onto the path that will lead them to successfully achieve their life’s great passion. To be a part of that remarkable process in my students is my life’s great passion, and I am forever thankful that I am allowed to pursue it.