Demanding your attention: A profile of Chris Guyotte
Gargoyle Photo by Brendan Morales-Doyle.
Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 2:45pm
WITH THE UNUSUAL amount of turnover amongst Uni teachers this year, you might be confused about who the new teachers are. Of the new cast of teachers, though, one might have stood out to you in the hall: Chris Guyotte, clean shaven, with a messenger bag over his shoulder and a paper clip in his black polo-shirt, tends to draw your attention.
Whether it be his mysterious nickname, Fing, or the fact that, when deciding on the spot where to pose for the picture at the top of this article, his first thought was in front of the men's bathroom sign, Guyotte's quirkiness makes you pause and take heed.
Little do you know that getting your attention is all part of his plan to teach you about theater. Guyotte plans to invigorate the Uni theater scene, and he’s going to get to do everything he can to get you, the student, involved. Thankfully, he was able to take a few minutes away from his quest to sit down and talk to me, gesturing dramatically all the while, about himself and his plans at Uni.
The student becomes the master
Growing up in New Hampshire, Guyotte was not incredibly enthusiastic about school as a student.
"I was a miserable student in high school, just miserable," he admits, shaking his head. "A lot of people assumed that I’d be stupid and the classes were just boring. I went to school at a time where the idea of making a class interesting was completely foreign to teachers."
During high school, though, Guyotte met a teacher that was not going to let him keep going down the path he was on.
"I had a teacher who saw that I was slacking and she took me under her wing and had me doing technical theater in high school."
It was then that Guyotte learned to love theater and acting. After high school he went to college and, eventually, pursued a master's degree in fine arts for theater in Detroit, and then a degree in theater history here at the University of Illinois.
After discovering his love for acting, it was not a huge leap to teaching. Guyotte considers himself a performer, not only as an actor, but in the classroom as well.
"I’m not a guy who can listen to the drone in the front of the room for six hours a day," he said. "That plays into my teaching, but my mother likes to tell people that I was pretending to stand up in front of people and give talks as soon as I was old enough to know what that meant. I’ve always been kind of an attention hound."
Passion in the classroom
Guyotte has not forgotten the type of student that he was. His goal is to get students' attention and to make class interesting for them, even if they might not immediately appreciate it.
"I might do things like sneak up on you and scream in your ear just to get you interested in what I’m talking about," he said, "or at least to make you laugh so that you’re paying attention to me and not whatever you’re doodling on the page. I try to make it as interesting and unexpected as possible."
Guyotte's frustration with his own teachers has inspired him to be different.
"They just thought it was a stupid, terrible idea to make the class interesting," he said.
When I asked him what his teaching style was, Guyotte answered with one word: "Loud." I asked him to elaborate.
"I am a performer," he said, "so if you’re not interested in what I’m teaching, I get really... not insulted, but it’s a challenge for me to make you get interested."
Plans for the future
Passing on his knack and fondness for getting people's attention is part of Guyotte's plan for the future. He spoke to me enthusiastically about instituting a new class on public speaking because, while Guyotte has plenty of good things to say about Uni, he does feel that public speaking is an area in which Uni students, and people in general, could probably use some help.
"Uni's great," he said. "The kids are way smarter, but I knew that coming in. A lot of the exercises that I planned go much faster here because people have better critical thinking skills. Uni kids tend to just be much faster on the uptake."
This public speaking class, he said, will be "the single most important class for many people at Uni who want to talk in public."
"Everybody is eventually going to have to give a speech or stand up in front of people," he continued, "and standing up in front of people is one of the scariest things possible. And so what happens is people start to mumble, and people start to talk quietly. I am going to fix that; I’m going to teach them to be way more afraid of me than the audience."
In addition to the public speaking class, Guyotte also plans to add an acting course and possibly other courses to his arsenal, as well as keeping current classes such as Film Study.
Making theater accessible
"The fall play is what?" is probably not an uncommon response when people first hear that Guyotte is planning on doing a version of the movie Night of the Living Dead for the fall play. That's all part of the plan.
"This play is based on the movie that is the impetus for the whole zombie genre. [...] Plus, I wanted make people go, 'He’s doing what?' and that’s what happened."
Guyotte readily admits that he is not the first one to do the black-and-white zombie movie as a play, but, in this case, it's not only the concept, but the application that makes it such a compelling idea for a play.
"It also allows me to get a lot of people involved without actually making them come to rehearsal," he said. "So if they want to be a zombie, they have to show up an hour before the show, the night of the show, and one of my eight lead zombies will teach them the moves that they have to do. It’ll be a lot of fun."
For Guyotte, high-school theater is all about making the art accessible to the students.
"It’s not snooty, it’s not gay, right? It’s to break some of those barriers, to realize that you really can go see the show and have fun," he commented.
In addition to letting students be a part of the play as extras, Guyotte has other plans for future plays.
"Oh, I’ll do something crazy," he assured me, and clearly he has plenty of ideas. In the past, he has even done a play where anyone who came dressed as a dancer got a discounted ticket, which led to the entire boy's basketball team showing up as ballerinas.
That said, it doesn't mean he can't have a serious play, as long as it's compelling.
"Sometimes I might do a show that’s meant to spur discussion like A Man for All Seasons or even Romeo and Juliet," he said.
But, before he gets too serious, Guyotte wants to show the school that the most important rule of theater is to have fun.
"Just get people in there!" he exclaimed. "Every senior I’ve finally gotten into a play has come to me at the end of the year and said, 'Wow Mr. Guyotte, I wish I’d done more of that.' So, if I can get people starting as subbies to come in and do that and to bring their friends in, that’s great too."