A slightly frazzled Professor Barry Sanders makes his way through the courtyard toward his classroom, while sipping on his morning beverage. “What’s on his mind this morning,” I think to myself. Is he contemplating today’s lesson concerning the true significance of Beowulf’s demise? Maybe he’s mentally preparing for a proposal to commence his latest grassroots project. Perhaps he merely wonders whether or not he rewound the videotape containing a documentary on “Coney Island.” One can never quite tell with Professor Sanders.
In the oral tradition of Pitzer students past and present, Professor Sanders’ legacy and appeal was reinforced through a barrage of stories and testimonies I’d heard one night. Ironically, these “tales” were told as a few of us sat on the porch of the Grove House. And I soon became aware that Professor Sanders was directly responsible for providing us with that little piece of Pitzer heaven. Having learned what I had during that evening’s “pow wow,” I hoped that this Professor Sanders might take pity on a junior such as myself, who had waited until the last minute to add one final course to my class schedule. The following morning was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting the endlessly smiling eyes of the Professor. When I knocked on his door, he answered with speed, without having to even beg him for the class, he simply smiled and said “Need a class, dude? Let me sign that thing.”
Orality and Literacy was a very interesting and challenging class, but not in the conventional sense. It wasn’t about composing 500-page papers or being forced to assimilate to archaic ideas, as would a bunch of “storm troopers.” It was an environment that advocated new ideas as well as examined antiquated ones. Although I found that most Pitzer professors and the classes they taught were very inclusive when it came to helping us learn how to think, Professor Sanders’ course was instrumental in helping me understand how to view and understand culture by examining the way in which we communicate.
For me, an actor, this type of information is like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. To be more specific, Professor Sanders began a discussion in which he juxtaposed theatrical performance to religious ritual. Having been raised a Catholic, it soon dawned upon me that there were some parallels. Even though I hardly find Catholic Mass entertaining (and certain plays for that matter) many of the components for relaying a message and telling a story are included. Professor Sanders alluded to the fact that in both contexts there is an audience, there are “storytellers” and in many cases the experiences require group participation. In a theatrical performance, the actor can use the dialogue in a script in a similar fashion that a priest would use the Word to engage the congregation during Mass. In the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, the Last Supper is reenACTed during every service with the consecration of the Eucharist and the wine into the flesh and blood of Christ respectively. Not to mention that many of the anecdotes in the Bible were audibly told and in some ways performed to its writers before they were transcribed.
This was a simple concept that was right in front of me for most of my life, but for some reason it didn’t become so clear until Professor Sanders broke it down. From that moment on, whenever I would hear someone exclaim that a play or movie was “preachy” I had to laugh out loud. I thought of that little lesson in the Orality and Literacy class. Interestingly enough, I still find that some people do expect or even attain some type of religious experience from watching a good performance just as much as folks go to church to hear the preacher crack jokes and hear the choir sing.
In addition to this epiphany, as well as other encounters I had with Professor Sanders, I realized that as an actor I was no longer confined to developing the characters I played in such a finite, two-dimensional way. I discovered I was free to utilize my own experiences to enhance my performances. Although Professor Sanders was not my acting coach, his lessons helped me find that “pot of gold.” His genius was only amplified by his quick-witted humor. He stayed animated and never “taught,” instead he engaged and invited. What an effective way of communicating. Professor Sanders is a wonderful teacher and he truly maximized my experience at Pitzer.
—Bruce Gerard Brown Jr. ’98