We are proud to say that in this issue of Drama Research, as well as articles from the USA and the UK, there is strong representation of research papers from the African continent: from Ghana, Zimbabwe and The Republic of South Africa. It is a rare treat to gain a wealth of insights into the work that is going on in that great continent.
However, what is important to understand is the context in which some research takes place there. Owen Seda and Kennedy Chinyowa in their article Researching applied theatre through the ethnography of performance: a perspective from the South pose themselves the question:
How can arts education practices such as applied drama and theatre be better researched using performance ethnography?
But their research in Zimbabwe, undertaken between 2002 and 2010, was conducted against a particularly unusual (to say the least) social and political context:
‘Soon after the controversial outcome of the Zimbabwean presidential elections of March 2002, the then ruling party ZANU (PF) had established vigilante groups, otherwise known as ‘war veterans’, who were carrying out a ‘cleansing’ exercise to rid the party’s rural support base of suspected opposition party elements (see IRIN News, 8 September, 2003). ‘Strangers’ (like ourselves) were liable for questioning, which could easily degenerate into torture and violence.’
Thus limited in their options for research by these extraordinary conditions they take as the source of their case studies two theatre companies working in Zimbabwe and environs: CHIPAWO, a Children’s Performing Arts Workshop, and Amakhosi, one of post-independence Zimbabwe’s most successful community theatre companies. Through this work they conclude that there is indeed a valuable research relationship between performance ethnography and drama and theatre that is worth exploring further.
In their article, Experimenting Playbuilding with Ghanaian Children, Faustina Brew and Awo Mana Asiedu describe a project they led in Ghana, a country that has no tradition of educational drama or play making. They discovered that
‘..while speaking with some Ghanaian children before our recent project, it was clear that they indeed saw themselves in the role of passive receptivity in relation to television drama and film. They could not conceptualise terms such as roleplay, imagination or creativity.’
The authors outline the steps they took to move the children from familiar activities, like making pots, to the unfamiliar territory of creativity through play. Their brief and simple project appears to have convinced the children’s parents of the value of drama processes for their children’s development.
In South Africa Petro Janse van Vuuren, in Keeping promises: A Strategic Narrative Embodiment model for designing social change interventions, argues that Applied Theatre is an important method for helping organisations
‘close the gap between what organisations say they want to do and what they in fact deliver.’
‘By navigating the relationship between what we aspire to and our embodied realities, applied theatre offers a potentially powerful model for designing social change interventions that can help organisations to keep their promises.’
Her study centres on a private health care organisation where she discovered that
‘though officially the organisation promoted a team approach, in the department we were working with a higher value was placed on personal responsibility and individual performance. This resulted in the blaming and finger-pointing behaviour the GFM spoke of. The transition exercises began to deconstruct this narrative and to open alternative possibilities, though new emergent narratives did not yet arise.’
The applied theatre experiences through forum theatre began to transform ‘blame stories’ into productive working relationships.
Jennifer Little’s research in The Show Must Go On: Using Applied Theatre Conventions to Create Intergenerational Attitudinal Shifts and Understandings focused on an intergenerational applied theatre project based in a non-residential senior centre between High School students and senior citizens who attended the centre. The project is unusual in that most intergenerational work involves the younger participants making theatre about the elder; in this project both generations engaged with one another’s experiences.
‘By only allowing the younger participants the opportunity to act out these life events through drama, we are limiting the sharing experience. Instead, we need to challenge our participants to share stories by both young and old and have both groups create theatrical life events.’
The resultant sharing of stories – ‘gifting’ them to one another – led to some quite profound apparent shifts in attitude from each generation.
Rachael Jacobs, in her article Challenges of drama performance assessment discusses the problematic issue of assessment in Drama. She identifies that
‘as a subject taught in schools, Drama is somewhat unique because students’ experiences of performing and learning are intertwined (Schechner 2003; 1981). The combination of embodied learning, artistic processes and the demonstration of specific performance skills are also utilised in other performing arts subjects, such as Dance. In subjects such as these, performance is fundamental to learning and assessment.
Jacobs takes us on a thoroughly researched journey through the issues raised by the apparent conflict between objective and subjective judgements; between traditional testing and asssessment of the arts. There seems to be such inherent dissonance between the two approaches to assessment that
‘such matters of emphasis are so fundamental that it seems as though testing and the arts reside in different worlds.’
What Jacobs achieves in this remarkable article is to give pointers to the practical ways in which these two worlds can be brought together in greater harmony, allowing students to have a clearer understanding of the criteria of their assessment and, for the assessor, avoids
‘the ‘knowing it when they find it’ (Gordon 2004, p. 62) approach to assessment [which] is no longer acceptable in contemporary education.’
For further discussion of these issues we would refer the reader to Formative Assessment in Theatre Education: An Application to Practice by Chen et al., published in Drama Research 6.1 (April 2015).
On a similar theme Andy Kempe’s article, The role of ipsative design in developing the practice of trainee drama teachers, describes a research project undertaken at Reading University with trainee Drama teachers. The key issue under investigation was
‘how trainees’ self-imposed targets for improving classroom practice might articulate with the feedback received from their mentors.’
The questions the research sought to address were:
One thing that emerged from the study was that there was greater congruence betweeen tutors’ and students’ assessments on the importance of valuing pupils’ learning above all else; behaviour management, although high on the students’ assessment at first, became less important later, again congruent with the assessment of tutors.
Shelley Piasecka’s article, Culture, Politics and Drama Education: The Creative Agenda 1997-2015, sets out on an ambitious journey of mapping a period of 18 years of education policy in the UK in relation to the ‘Creative Agenda’. Piasecka is
‘interested in the nature of education and the place for drama in the modern day primary curriculum, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalised children.’
The ‘Creative Agenda’ was introduced after the election victory of New Labour in 1997 but Piasecka notes that it was not the child-centred approach in Primary education of the era of the Plowden Report in the 1960 and 1970s:
‘[t]he revolution in curriculum ushered in by the 1988 Reform Act is being followed by an attempted revolution in pedagogy. The child-centred ideology associated with the Plowden Report (1967) has come under strong attack’ (Wood 1993: 355).
Piasecka’s thoughtful article revisits the government initiatives in the years to the present day and notes the comparative absence of creativity as a valued educational attribute in current government thinking and initiatives.She concludes that
‘What matters, is that we, as an invested community, find ways to reposition drama within the current political agenda.’
Her article is surely a wake up call for all those who value Drama and theatre as important for the fabric of the lives and education of children and young people today.
We feel this issue of Drama Research brings many different worlds together for assessment and evaluation: the Northern with the Southern Hemisphere; the objective with the subjective; the past with the present. We feel that these juxtapositions offer productive tension to stimulate thinking not just about Drama and Theatre but also about the social and political contexts for education and well being of children and young people all around the world.
Viv Kerridge, Amanda Kipling, Chris Lawrence and Nicky Toneri.
Drama Research Editorial Board.