Volume 9 Editorial - NATIONAL DRAMA

Volume 9 Editorial

Many of the articles in this issue are concerned with the concept of transformation in different forms and by different methods. Transformation is by its nature an elusive concept to evaluate and measure; but, as it is so central to drama education – indeed, to all education – it is important that attempts are made by researchers to examine it and bring forward evidence of its occurrence. This is precisely what many researchers in this issue have set out to do.
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Many of the articles in this issue are concerned with the concept of transformation in different forms and by different methods. Transformation is by its nature an elusive concept to evaluate and measure; but, as it is so central to drama education – indeed, to all education – it is important that attempts are made by researchers to examine it and bring forward evidence of its occurrence. This is precisely what many researchers in this issue have set out to do.

What is apparent from their research into transformative practices is that such practices very often lead to drama educators coming into conflict with established ways of doing things in education which clearly requires both courage and integrity. What is also apparent is that it is not just an issue for education in the UK; the researchers from Hong Kong, Japan and Greece featured in this issue illustrate its international dimension.

Dr. Muriel Yuen-fun Law in her article, A Critical Analysis of Drama Curricular Practice as the Practice of Hope in Schools in Neoliberal Societiesin critiquing the concept of hope, identifies

..the significance and implications of the analysis of hope for critical drama educators to intervene into the dominant schooling practices in a transformative manner.

Her article examines two opposite meanings of hope, not just for school students in Hong Kong where she is based as an independent research scholar, but, as her title indicates, for all neoliberal societies. One concept which is generally accepted in such societies is that

Schools and school curricula have served to create and distribute hope for their school populations in terms of the promise of a good life, bright future, and upward social mobility.

On the surface these seem creditable aspirations. However, Dr. Law argues that

The task of critical educators and drama practitioners is to analyse what ideological contents of hope are distributed through school curricula, or, in other words, what kinds of hope schools encourage and what they discourage or dismiss.

In this respect she agrees with Michael Apple who has criticised neoliberalism

..as cultivating a ‘desocializing sensibility’ among people to think of themselves as a consumer, a ‘chooser’, of goods and services  (Apple 2014: xv).

For the world of education this approach has led in essence to the commoditisation of education where students ‘consume’ an ‘educational package’. What Dr. Law’s research suggests is that Drama education contradicts this process through providing ‘joyful engagement’:

The drama curricular practice of hope through joyful engagement opens possibilities in re-establishing pedagogical and social relations that have been desocialised and desensitised under the neoliberal governance.

Dr. Law’s study of the elusive and transformative concept of hope leads her to conclude its importance in encouraging a dimension of life enhancing human empowerment for individual students:

HAt the social and pedagogical level, the joyful engagement of the students in the drama curriculum practices hope in a way that unfolds a future that is dear to the individual students rather than prescribes one for them, offering opportunities to counter the neoliberal sensibility to desocialize and desensitise.Amanda Kipling’s article, How can Dorothy Heathcote’s praxis serve as a channel for Healing in the Drama Classroom? likewise focuses on the Drama educator’s role in fostering life-enhancing values. Her article describes a situation where healing was a prime concern of the UK teacher for a whole cohort of her Year 9 classes who had all engaged with the same apparently homeless man but who had all felt angry and betrayed by the encounter.

The learners had given money to the homeless man who had appeared disabled and were angry when they discovered him to be able bodied and not vulnerable, as they had been led to believe, but stronger than they were. They had wondered what else might have been the case with this man – what other untruths were there?

Because seven classes had shared the encounter the teacher appropriately and inspirationally selected one of the strategies that Dorothy Heathcote developed, Rolling Role, in which each class contributes to the learning of the other classes through a shared focus – in this case the encounter with the apparently homeless man.

Kipling’s article is structured around an interview with the teacher and charts the progress of the Rolling Role project which was aimed at a developing a process of healing of the cohort’s shared anger and sense of betrayal. Although mental and emotional health is clearly an important area of education such a focus is rarely possible in the kind of commoditised learning environment that Dr. Law referenced, especially given the diminished status of Drama in schools in the UK. As Kipling says:

Coupled with the growth of mental health concerns (Bloom 2018) it is ironic that the very subject poised to address these issues is being cut by the system producing them.

The article does not go so far as to reject the pressure of curriculum requirements altogether but locates Drama as a means of humanising such a curriculum:

Drama offers these rich and critical processes to take place whereby not only a deep and penetrative understanding for theatre is developed to meet curriculum requirements but also lifelong learning and self healing processes may become embedded.

At the heart of her argument is the statement by Carl Rogers;

‘The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination’ (Rogers 1967: 187).

Dr. Simos Papadopoulos and Georgia Kosma in their article, Action Research in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learning context: an educational study by means of the dramatic teaching approach Mantle of the Expert, also employ a strategy developed by Dorothy Heathcote in their research into teaching English as a Foreign Language: that of Mantle of the Expert.

The researchers focused on two groups of Greek primary level students: one whose teachers employed Mantle of the Expert as the teaching method; and a control group whose teachers taught the class using the standard Foreign Languages’ Teacher Manual (PI 2014). The two groups were in many ways comparable and of generally equal ability.

What emerged from this two week study was a distinct contrast in the responses of the students in each group. The researchers found that

Students in the control group were not observed to be happy with the project assignment. They had reactions of boredom and refusal as in all previous project assignments. They complained that they did not like it, it was difficult and that they did not have time due to their afternoon activities.

The researchers were interested in the levels of engagement particularly of the students whose grasp of English was not strong. The research model highlighted a distinct difference:

Weak students’ active engagement was of major importance. Current mainstream teaching practice did not facilitate students of weak learning styles to participate in the teaching – learning process. On the contrary, it fostered strong students’ participation. Mantle of the Expert enabled weak students to reveal new talents and dexterities and thus be actively engaged in the teaching – learning process. This means that more students contributed to successful completion of the assigned task.

What the researchers found was that whereas the traditional model of teaching by and large did not engage most students Mantle of the Expert, on the other hand was most efficient at doing so and it also developed the teachers:

Mantle of the Expert:

  • creates dialogic learning environments which are fundamental to achieving optimal learning. In such environments education is less like a waiting room and more like a laboratory (Taylor 2006)
  • enflames children’s imagination
  • expands the cognitive and emotional basis of social learning as it creates environments which promote the social nature of learning
  • promotes teacher professional development

The contrast in the feedback from the students reached the level of transformation. Whereas those in the control group showed all the typical signs of student disengagement those in the Mantle of the Expert group reported:

‘It’s so exciting to learn without the book!’
‘It was difficult but I learned so many things.’
‘I am excited because I can talk about real things!’
‘Working for the Mayor is great!’
‘Why is it over?’
‘I wish we could work as experts in all school subjects.’

This feedback constitutes a powerful argument for Drama in all classrooms.

Dr. Yukari Ishino’s article, A Study on the Theatrical Method for Transformative Learningtakes as its focus the area of self-transformation.

Transformative learning is a form of learning which transforms the way learners see and feel about their environment and the framework upon which their behaviour is based.

Like the other researchers here she acknowledges the difficulties of studying such an elusive phenomenon in the current educational conditions:

Neelands (2004) points out the difficulty of discussing self-transformation, which includes something uncertain and unstable by nature, in the context of the existing national curriculum.

Working in a volunteer centre in her native Japan she organised fifty students into small groups as follows:

Each group was set a particular premise such as an area stricken by disaster, nursery school waiting lists, regional activism, homelessness, educational inequality, children, LGBT, and disability issues. Then, they conducted fieldwork (FW) or volunteer activities related to each theme.

The researcher was guided throughout by Mezirow`s theory on transformative learning:

The key concept in facilitating meaning perspective transformation is Disorienting Dilemma. Mezirow defines the term as the events which start the process of transformation. He says perspective transformation comprises a series of dilemmas that can result from the transformation of perspective scheme. These challenges are psychologically tough because in many cases they lead to questioning the values acquired through life. He also says that a series of dilemmas exposes the sense of self to threat (Mezirow 1991).

Her article describes two of the case studies she conducted: one with a group at a free school; the other group doing fieldwork at a housing development, largely inhabited by elderly people. The students’ task was to reflect upon this fieldwork:

The instructions given to the students mainly consisted of two points: to pick the scene where they felt ‘something’; and to re-enact the scene as faithfully as possible.

The reason for this procedure is because, in the researcher’s view:

…the process of accurately playing others exposes  students’ dilemmas and encourages their transformation.

For example, in one case,Student E ‘had her ‘light bulb moment’, and stopped categorising people after she stopped thinking and started moving her body. She felt like she had appeared to be superficially interested and felt a kind of self-disgust about her tone of voice and her sense of superiority.This is a unique and fascinating study of an elusive but important process, that of self-transformation, which is at the heart of all education for students and teachers alike.Dr. Geoffrey Readman’s article, (In) visible Identities: an examination of the role of the artistic director in applied theatre-making

..critiques the practice of artistic directors within applied theatre companies in the United Kingdom. ‘Applied theatre’ is defined as a process of theatre-making that is designed for specified participants, communities and locations.

The article asks three key questions:

Is there a distinctive body of expertise required for applied theatre directing?

Are there significant influences on applied directorial identities?

What is the nature of directorial intervention in applied theatre-making?

In responding to these questions, and through fieldwork observations and discussions with five key directors in this specialist field, Dr. Readman provides not only a comprehensive critique of the genre, but also an important contribution to an understanding of its historical origins through Brecht and Boal, its relationship to classroom Drama education through Dorothy Heathcote, and its relationship to mainstream theatre directing:

There are characteristics of applied theatre directing that distinguish it from mainstream. Directors are working within contexts that are underpinned by constraints, considerations and boundaries. The practice is characterised by devised projects, specified audiences and community locations. The multi-faceted nature of this directorial process, it will be argued, creates a unique identity: one which is underpinned by ‘intentionality’.

It is a well researched and important contribution to our field with diagrams that helpfully provide clear guidance through quite complex relationships. Dr. Readman summarises the value of applied theatre directing thus:

Applied theatre directing is a process that retains discrete alternative practices and philosophies. It offers an alternative directorial model. Although there are ‘no secrets’ within the model’, it reflects intentions that are essentially concerned with supporting human beings to explore and address social needs.

It is praxis that should be preserved, recorded and celebrated.

I think the same sentiment can also be applied to all the articles describing research into transformation and self-transformation featured in this fascinating issue. Hopefully, this issue of Drama Research, by publishing these articles, will make a contribution to that process

Viv Kerridge, Amanda Kipling, Chris Lawrence and Nicky Toneri.

Drama Research Editorial Board.

National Drama

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