Making Choices

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of my favorite poems.  So much is said in only 20 lines, and in different times of my life or on different days even, the poem has said something unique to me.  While the piece is not the only inspiration for the name Two Roads Theatre Project, it is an important influence. 

I initially encountered the poem as a first-year acting student at Carnegie Mellon University in a Voice and Speech class.  My goal at the time was simply to recite it accurately by memory, hoping to employ the correct sounds of Standard American English with each and every word!  At the time, I barely thought about the underlying message, or what it meant to me personally, as someone walking down a road in life.  I also did not think about if what it means and what it means to me are, or need to be, one the same.  However, despite this lack of contemplation about The Road Not Taken, it stayed firmly implanted in my mind, while all of the other many wonderful poems that I had memorized during that fall semester quickly receded from my memory.

Years later, when teaching my first college acting class at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I pondered how to best begin the course for undergraduate students, many of whom had never studied acting before.  I decided to have everyone memorize and recite a poem, as it would be a safe way for the students to get a sense of what it feels like to be on stage alone in front of peers, presenting material, while also having a clear, structured task.  In my class, the beginning actors would all do the same piece.  I chose The Road Not Taken, of course!

In making and executing this pedagogical decision, I subsequently realized something: The Road Not Taken is an ideal poem for acting students to deliver!  The meaning is ambiguous, or perhaps quite concrete but just hidden.  Or seemingly, the meaning is simple, which can be a very beautiful way to portray the poem.  Or contrarily, multiple meanings might co-exist and overlap in Frost’s words.  In performing this poem then, the actor has a job to do: to interpret.  The actor, like the speaker in the poem, needs to make a choice.  The actor needs to say something, to breathe life into the words in a very specific way. 

Though again, I only realized the utility of this poem within my acting class after having selected it for the students and then watching their performances.  The meaning came after the choice.  Many would actually say that that is the point of Frost’s poem.