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”The Teacher Is a Guide Towards the Student’s Own Inspiration”

Interviewing Maaria Tuhkunen

Who are you? What is your education?

I am Maaria Tuhkunen, a freelance artis, theatre pedagog and articulacy teacher. My education is Theatre Master of Arts, theatre expression instructor and a Bachelor of Humanities, with a major in speech communication. In theatre my specialities are improvisatioal theatre and group based theatre/performing arts. In my work I apply theatre based work methods to various areas of life with individuals and groups. In recent years I have increasingly focused on the application of art and art-based methods in the promotion of well-being for the mind.

For how long have you taught at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki, and what do you teach?

I have taught at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki from spring 2012. My sister Annina Tuhkunen had by then been a sports and dance teacher at the Institute for about six months, so I came to know about the Institute through her. I had a course concept ready for people with stage fright and I was looking for a collaborator to make the course happen. Then Course Planner Maija Solovjew became inspired by the idea, and the course has been arranged during every semester ever since. In addition to this I have, among other things, taught voice improvisation, and I have also directed groups in theatre for seniors.

What do you want to give to the student?

As a techer I am an opener of windows and doors. The person can decide for her/himself whether s/he wants to go through the open doors or not. For example with the group suffering from stage fright I don’t really focus on pointers and advice, but at best the course is the start of an individual process. The students in my courses are highly motivated. The teacher is more of a companion and a support, and the student is the key focus in the process. The best thing is when the student finds something new about themselves during the course. People have a lot of answers within themselves. I want to make people understand the good and valuable they have in themselves. It would be great if by taking my course a person’s sense of self worth would become stronger, the course would provide food for thought and some building blocks would slide into a slightly different position. The course can function as an eye-opener and a wake-up call, so that the student´s awareness of the self and the world around us can grow.

Please tell us about your courses and the subjects that you teach

The aim of the survival course for sufferers of stage fright is to find concrete tools for everyone to be more comfortable in being the centre of attention or in challenging interactions, and also easier to create personal space under one’s own terms. During the course there is no need to cover up the nervousness, so energy is freed into creating a better contact to oneself and others. As a pedagog I believe more in the power of positive feedback and encouragement than in correcting mistakes.

During voice improvisation we get to know our bodies as versatile instruments and get playful with the voice without any performance pressure. As an aside we learn to produce sound in a healthy way. All manner of voices are welcome at the course and no previous experience is needed.

With the Theatre 63+ course group we have co-created a piece of modern theatre based on the students’ motion, sound and text improvisations. The method of working is immersing oneself without performance pressure. The minimum age for the course is 63, so you need to have some mileage to apply.

In city art courses we marvel at public spaces and related phenomena from the point of view of communal and performance art, and use the city space in a way that differs from everyday life.

Why is studying in an institute of adult education a good thing?

There are a lot of interesting things in the world from which to learn and gain benefit from. No-one is ever finished. People change, and can and are allowed to change during all ages. This I have observed especially when making theatre with senior groups. The work demands of modern life are also hard, and trying something completely different can also offer rest. Meaningful hobbies are good for mental health and well-being. Learning new things strengthens self-esteem and at best you meet nice, new people at the courses.

What would you like to say to the students?

It is possible to manage in a chaotic world even though you don’t have absolute answers. For those with state fright I emphasize gentleness towards oneself and the acceptance of the fact that you are a work in progress. There is no such thing as perfection, and it is not even interesting. Mistakes are important. In fact, when directing groups I have often noticed that a mistake is an opening into a new insight. When choosing a course it pays to listen to oneself and ask directly about different options.

What is your motto in life?

A maxim of which I remind myself and others daily is: “Remember to breathe.”

Be brave and sign up for articulacy and communication classes!