Balancing act keeps students engaged

Posted on Tuesday, February 3, 2015


By Brandon Gillet

Do you think that university courses are all alike? Think again! Our teachers are full of imagination and creativity, and many of them stand out, captivating students with extraordinary courses! Over the next weeks, The Gazette will publish a series of articles about these amazing teachers and the awesome courses that they offer on campus.

It began with an image of a uOttawa professor balancing what looked like a full-size pig on his chin. With a little digging, the Gazette learned that this professor was none other than the Department of Theatre’s Technical Director, Jonathan Lockhart.

As a part-time professor since 2007 and full-time Technical Director since 2009, Lockhart brings his experience of theatre applications and practices to his teaching in order to keep his students engaged. The photo of him balancing the pig is one such example.

“That’s part of my skills. I juggle, I eat fire, I escape from straitjackets,” says Lockhart. “And I can balance odd-shaped objects on my face.”

Aside from his job here on campus, Lockhart is a professional juggler, performer and busker. In fact, he paid his way through university by touring Canada to perform at busker festivals. Students don’t expect these types of “stage skills”, which they gradually discover as the session wears on, from a theatre tech professor.

“I tell stories, like when I was in Singapore or when I was in Europe doing all these strange events,” said Lockhart. “Gradually, people start to discover that I have these hidden talents, so I usually do it as a special thing on the last day of class.”

The class in question deals with the use of props, so what better prop than a full-size foam pig? Lockhart was describing the different things an actor can do on stage with props, which led to balancing.

“Of course, why wouldn’t an actor balance a pig on his face?” Lockhart exclaimed.

“He first did it in my first year of university, and it was neat because I didn’t know professors at university could do that sort of thing,” says Laura Wheeler, a student specializing in theatre. “I didn’t really expect the University of Ottawa to have such a neat professor with such a different background.”

The drive behind Professor Lockhart`s  unique teaching style is his desire to keep his students engaged; whether through storytelling, creative PowerPoint presentations, or a mini stage show, he tries to keep them on edge.

“If that means doing something wacky or out of the ordinary, I’ll do that,” said Lockhart. “Like jumping up on tables when I’m talking about the use of space on stage.”

The professor explains that he is trying to break down the “fourth wall” to show students the relationship that exists between performer and audience in the theatre.

“His teaching style is very engaging,” said Kayla Clark, another student specializing in theatre. “He is very encouraging, very funny, and you learn a lot.”

Lockhart developed his unique teaching style by incorporating his theatre skills into his teaching. He recalls his first day of teaching, when he went into the class pretending that he had already been teaching for 10 years.

“In a way, I kind of had my script all memorized about what I wanted to do,” says Lockhart. “But I’m one of these professors that really go off on all these tangents, often not even referring to my notes. It’s a lot of me just ad-libbing.”

Using this wacky style of engaging his students fits perfectly with his background, as well as the practical aspect of the courses he teaches.

“The best way I get them to learn is by actually doing it,” said Lockhart. “Students are involved in our productions. Whether that’s building the set, sewing the costumes, hanging and focusing the lights, finding the props, so they get actual hands-on experience.”

The professor has about 15 years of experience in professional theatre techniques, working backstage most recently with the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC), where he was in charge of lighting and Assistant Technical Director. Lockhart is also a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and, as such, has worked backstage for artists such as Katy Perry, Bon Jovi, and the Black Eyed Peas.


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