Teaching Philosophy

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 theater artists as “good” or “bad,” whether they are majors or non-majors; I believe that the study of theater is a lifelong endeavor, and that anyone can make immense progress over time. It is true of any course of study that students will inevitably become better through hard work. Thus, I acknowledge strong work ethics and offer specific, non-judgmental feedback. 

Bercovici working with students, Acting I, Colby College

Within a liberal arts education, a theater class can offer students the opportunity to bring their bodies to the forefront and to reconnect them to their brains and emotions. A theater class offers a level of kinesthetic learning that cannot help but enhance a student’s ability to stay present in lectures and labs. 

Through the study of acting and directing, 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. My work is rooted in Stanislavski’s “System,” but it encompasses a variety of techniques, including the “Viewpoints” of both Anne Bogart and Mary Overlie, the vocal work of Kristin Linklater and Patsy Rodenburg, and the physical exercises of Michael Chekhov and 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 begin the semester with a series of 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. I then choose challenging, complex texts, even for beginning acting students. My students have worked on scenes from plays by Sheila Callaghan, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Federico Garcia Lorca, Eugene O’Neill, Sarah Ruhl, and August Wilson, amongst others. I believe that students rise to the challenge of a well-written text. I encourage students to let a 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, a set of given circumstances, and a piece of text.

Bercovici working with her theater company, Real Live Theatre

Bercovici working with her theater company, Real Live Theatre

In courses on directing or devised work, I focus on the arts of observation, communication, and collaboration. Students explore these through many different types of projects, including the staging of memories, neutral scenes, short stories, scenes, and one act plays. Students are encouraged to enter the rehearsal room having done extensive preparatory work, and to then be keenly present with what is. My students do research on the piece or source material, learn thoughtful habits of collaboration with both performers and designers, explore beat demarcation and character objectives, and develop a core concept (“matrix”) that can be integrally applied to all aspects of production. They explore ensemble-building through different theatrical traditions and learn a wide variety of techniques with which to create a community of engaged theater artists who feel joy, trust, and agency in the process. Finally, they learn various approaches to scene work and how to sculpt dynamic, effective blocking.

When I teach theater in a liberal arts environment, I encourage students to draw connections between the different disciplines they are studying. Directing students may draw on information learned in history and art courses as inspiration for their projects. Actors use psychology and sociology courses to further understand their characters and relationships. In physical theater classes, I bring students to the art museum and have them draw inspiration from paintings. I bring history and theory into all of my courses, giving students a firm grounding in both Aristotelian and avant-garde approaches to theater-making. I teach theater history and dramatic literature in the context of the cultures that have created the specific theater 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. 

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 theater, where writers, actors, directors, designers, dramaturges, and historians come together to create unique pieces of theater for 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.

What Students Say

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.
— Peggy Gillespie
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
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 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.
— Sasha Nyary
Working with Toby Bercovici, in both a classroom and a production setting, has generated some of the most creatively fruitful experiences of my time studying performance. Toby does not enter the classroom or rehearsal with the notion that she knows all of the answers; instead, Toby envelops her students with the confidence that she will genuinely work beside them to find a solution to their questions through thorough creative exploration. Toby is a skilled listener, an admirable quality that rubs off on her students almost immediately. She creates an engaging environment where students feel comfortable and present, while inviting and encouraging risk-taking, which she celebrates at every level. Toby is not only an incredibly gifted director and professor, but also a genuinely invested mentor who is willing to take the time to put in the extra work with her students in order to see them grow as performers, directors, and humans.
— Kaylee Pomelow
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