All of the actors
as well as the director and the producer of this play are members of the alpha
corps, which is the honors group of the American Management Seminars.
The American Management Seminars are a program of classroom and extracurricular activities designed to provide better students of business and eco-nomics with an interdisciplinary preparation for their careers.
The launch of The Thames & Charles Company prompted one observer to suggest that the program was devoting undue time and energy to the students "personal development." I am not altogether certain that university education and personal development are mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, the goals of our theater company are entirely consistent with the purposes of higher education and career training.
There are of course the obvious educational advantages, such as voice projection and poise in front of an audience. But more importantly the students work on their emotional intelligence, specifically on self-awareness and on empathy. Ideally, they will develop their ability to recognize and understand their moods, emotions and drives as well as those of others. They might also develop an ability to control and to redirect disruptive impulses and moods. And, finally, they will develop an ability to find common ground with others in unknown territory.
The uninitiated might think that twenty odd business and economics students would approach the text of this medieval play with equal measures of indifference and incomprehension. However, anyone attending the rehearsals of the chorus, as I did many times, would have witnessed fierce discussions on the meaning and the proper rendition of virtually every single line.
The cast has been rehearsing since May, the chorus since October but that on three evenings a week. Why did so many industrious students make such a commitment?
Several of the students told me that they wanted to test their own limits in facing a challenge remote from the mandatory business and economics curriculum - but only with similarly motivated students. The students often see the alpha corps as an Anglo-American college community enclave within the broader and anonymous business and economics faculty, and it was only within this enclave that the students were prepared to make the necessary commitment in time and energy.
At the same time, these students are motivated to complete their studies fast and successfully. But some of them have said that the standard business and economics studies are not intellectually balanced and thus they are keen to rise to the interdisciplinary challenges presented to them by the American Management Seminars.
A few students said that while they had learned how to analyze a text in school they had never before tried to bring a literary text alive, and it was this which made acting in Murder in the Cathedral so exciting. One student said that he had never before thought about the impact of his body language and of his voice on others and that by acting in this play he was learning how to actively manage his emotions and how to consciously use them in interacting with others.
Yet another student said that by acting in a play set in a remote age he might better understand people whose lives have been formed by completely different values and other environmental factors. A couple of students were attracted by the idea of acting in a foreign language, and indeed one student has argued that you only discover the linguistic beauty of this play once you try to act it out.
Another student says that acting in this play has prompted him to think about religion and society, and about how Christianity can be lived in the modern world. One of the recurring problems in rehearsing with the chorus in fact was helping the students find a plausible way to express the religious fervor of twelfth century peasants.