Video Clips from The Master Builder, Colby College, Fall 2016:
Scenes from August: Osage County, Adult Acting, Spring 2014:
Scenes from Waiting for Godot, Adult Acting Spring 2015
As a teacher, I am both participant and witness. I hold the experience of my students and let them know that their progress is being noticed and appreciated. I ask them questions, offer them tools, and give them space and time within which to make connections. It is not my job to rank student actors as “good” or “bad,” whether they are Theatre majors or non-majors; in fact, I believe that the study of acting is a lifelong endeavor, and that anyone can make immense progress over time. It is true, in fact, of any course of study, including that of Theatre Appreciation, Theatre History, and Dramatic Literature, that students will inevitably become better through hard work. Thus, I acknowledge strong work ethics and offer specific, non-judgmental feedback.
Central to my teaching is the creation of a supportive community within which students want to take risks. No matter which performance course I’m teaching, I begin the semester with a series of group- and trust-building exercises which encourage listening, openness, honesty, and physical and emotional connection. By the end of this portion of the semester, my class feels like an ensemble of actors who know one another’s fears, strengths, and passions.
Through the study of acting, students grow into themselves. They learn to take up space, harness time, speak without apology, and offer up their vulnerabilities in safe and channelled ways. These qualities and benefits exist across methodologies, and I draw on and connect many of them in my teaching, including but certainly not limited to Stanislavski’s “System” of actions and objectives, the “Viewpoints” of both Anne Bogart and Mary Overlie, the voice work of Kristin Linklater, and the physical exercises of Tadashi Suzuki. Acting requires regular voice and movement work, self-reflection and self-understanding, careful study of the text, a grasp of the needs and desires of the character, deep listening, relaxed breath, attentiveness to detail, and trust in oneself and others. I believe that if performers are relaxed and aware enough to take in the surrounding action, if they honestly listen to their fellow actors, and if they allow themselves to be buffeted about by, rather than closed down to, unexpected events, then they will be capable of experiencing a rich, full range of emotions and of expressing these to the audience. Acting is not about becoming a character, or even about being oneself on stage, but is, in fact, the art of becoming more fully present and open within each moment than one is able to be in ordinary life.
When I lead monologue and scene work, I start from a place of honesty and vulnerability. I encourage students to let the text lead them into unexpected places, and to avoid making “character” decisions too early on. I describe “character” as the explosive coming together of an actor and a piece of text, and as action rather than personality; I discourage actors from seeing “character” as external, already in existence, something to seek out and step into. I choose challenging, complex texts, even for beginning acting students. My students have worked on scenes from plays by Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Federico Garcia Lorca, Eugene O’Neill, Sarah Ruhl, Sam Shepard, and Diana Son, amongst others. I believe that students rise to the challenge of a well-written text. Depending on the class, we may read plays aloud, explore them through composition work, and look for the motivations inherent in the text, so that as we dive into scene work, the students truly understand the words they are speaking.
In Theatre Appreciation, Theatre History, and Dramatic Literature courses, I give students a strong grounding in both Aristotelian and avant-garde approaches to theatre-making. I teach Theatre History and Dramatic Literature in the context of the cultures that have created the specific theatre styles and ideas. Once the students understand theatrical structure and its historical context, we explore the roles each collaborator plays in the creation of a performance.
My Directing courses focus on the dynamic relationship between actor and director. We ask questions: what constitutes effective communication between the two parties? How do collaborators most successfully lend energy to one another? How do we open one another up to vulnerability and creativity? In addition to this exploration, my classes frequently follow the arc of a production. Students do research on the play and the playwright’s historical context, put together a dramaturgical packet for the actors, learn thoughtful habits of collaboration with both performers and designers, explore beat demarcation and character objectives, and develop a core concept (“matrix”) for the production that can be integrally applied to all aspects of production. They explore ensemble-building through different theatrical traditions, learning the wide variety of techniques that exist with which to create a community of engaged actors who feel joy, trust, and agency in the process. Finally, they learn various approaches to scene work, leading of course to the sculpting of effective blocking which fully utilizes the scenery.
In my teaching of any subject, whether Acting or Directing or Dramatic Literature, I always recognize, celebrate, and include in the core of the class, the collaborative nature of theatre, where writers, actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs, and historians come together to create unique pieces of theatre for our diverse audiences. I approach students as wise and sensitive beings who have as much to offer the material as it has to offer them. I listen deeply to them, I am fully present with them, and I allow them to constantly delight and surprise me. My classes abound with creative interchange and dynamic discovery.
Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness
"Toby is an original thinker, a true visionary, as informed by her extraordinary depth of knowledge and training. I have worked behind the scenes in theater but not on stage for 30 years and the acting class I took with Toby was both safe and challenging; I felt inspired and fulfilled in every session. I was both allowed to work at my own comfort level and gently asked to participate. Her approach made it easy to say yes to her suggestions and requests. It was an extraordinary experience for me and I can’t wait to take more classes."
“Toby Bercovici is an extraordinary acting teacher. With a gentleness and kindness that creates safety for everyone in our acting class, from beginning actors to highly experienced actors with professional backgrounds, she was able to draw out the very best in each person. We laughed, we played, we invented, we struggled and all under Toby’s expert and wise guidance. I have seen her coax great performances from each person in the class. In addition, I had the pleasure of witnessing a one woman show that she directed. It was a very difficult and powerful piece of theatre, which touched all of the audience members. It was clear from seeing this performance that her ability to work with an actor to create an intimate and yet complex performance must also be extraordinary. The students who take her courses are fortunate to work with such an insightful, well-trained, and innovative theatre professor.”
“As an educator, Toby Bercovici combines profound wisdom and maturity with a student spirit in terms of freshness, humility, enthusiasm. When you study with her, even though she is by far the teacher in terms of knowledge, experience and talent, you feel you are part of a team that also includes her as a member. She is a fantastic combination of an inspiring teacher and a companion who leads you along a learning process with kindness, humor, belief in you, inspiration and enormous respect. She brings out the best in you and makes you feel supported to leap into the unknown. As an educator myself, I have learned a great deal from her techniques and applied some in my Spanish classes. I firmly believe Toby is going to make a name for herself as an actors’ director. Personally, I will continue taking workshops with her whenever I have a chance.”
- Reyes Lazaro
“Toby truly inspires me when she's teaching because she just seems to grow and learn as I grow and learn. She is right there with me, next to me, demonstrating and sweating out complicated and exhausting exercises rather than dictating them from above or from some comfortable chair. She is not afraid to go through examples over and over so that I understand, instead of me tackling something blindly, hoping I can just figure it out on my own. In this, she creates an environment in which I have never been afraid to take a risk, even if, perhaps, it was not the right choice at the time or the safe choice. Through Toby's guidance I have always made the different choice and feel that my skill sets are more solid because of it. She has never given anything less than her full physicality and vulnerability while teaching and trusts so much that the stakes are always higher when I am working with her. I consistently strive for the best because I can feel the trust with which she has empowered me, and I find that my strength as a performer grows every time I carefully take her specific notes. I never want to give up when Toby is teaching.”
- Linda Tardif
“Ms. Bercovici stands out among all the teachers and directors I have worked with. She is patient and has a wonderful sense of humor. Her standards are high and she is not afraid to guide people who are twice her age. She is extremely knowledgeable about a variety of techniques and incorporates her physical training, Linklater voice work and love for the absurd in her direction. I particularly love the way she prompts people to work truthfully while leading them to perform beyond their comfort level. However, the talent that stands out most is her ability to make the actor feel good about themselves and their work. When you work with Toby you become a stronger person. ... Though I’m sure Ms. Bercovici must have her faults, none come immediately to mind. She is punctual, flexible, humorous, and extremely knowledgeable and I look forward to working with her again in the near future.”
- Lynn Vesely Hicks