Volume 13 Editorial - NATIONAL DRAMA

First of all, let me welcome you to the new look Drama Research. National Drama, the professional association for teachers of Drama and Theatre, has invested in a brand new website and Drama Research has benefitted from this upgrade. We have attempted to make the journal as accessible and approachable as possible and so we have taken this opportunity to give it a complete re-design. Technically speaking, it is now organised on a Posts format, that is, continuous texts, rather than the Pages format on the old website, where different chapters were arranged on separate pages. This means there are far fewer clicks to negotiate the content and allows the reader a smoother, uninterrupted read. We do hope you like it!

The image associated with our last issue, Volume 12.1, is of a puppet wearing a mask, chosen because it symbolised the situation that we faced at the time of publication, when the wearing of masks in public places was a common feature of our lives. As we re-emerge from this unprecedented situation, we begin to evaluate what we have learned – and not learned – from our experiences during the last two years.

In their article, Intergenerational Collaborative Digital Applied Theatre Practice: Empathy and Connection in a time of Social Isolation for NHS Patients undergoing Dialysis and Secondary School Students in North London, James Clarke, Rachel Hudspith and Nicola Abraham observe:

The past two years have been incredibly difficult for communities worldwide. We have seen devastating losses, heightened inequality, and exposure of ageism and poor care that has illustrated the urgent need for change in our world.

As they infer, one group of people who have been most severely affected by these kinds of conditions are the elderly, especially those who were residents in care homes whose plight most clearly focused the shortcomings of Government actions or inactions. The statistics of deaths in care homes tells its own grim story but the conditions of the pandemic also:

[Had a] severe impact on the wellbeing, activity level and sleep quality of older adults…it might be beneficial to devote more attention to the importance of maintaining strong social relationships during major stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic (Sarah De Pue et al. (2021)

But, at the other end of the social spectrum the authors remind us that young people were also impacted severely:

Many schools have been working remotely with few in-person interactions leaving young people without support networks in school.

In January 2021, the BBC reported that disadvantaged families were being ‘locked out’ of accessing online learning:

[B]etween 1.m – 1.8million school aged children didn’t have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home (ibid.).

Their article tells the story of how these two groups, young and elderly, were brought together, albeit digitally, to alleviate the stresses of their respective situations:

In the summer term of 2021, two classes of year 9 (13-14yrs.) students from a secondary school in North London worked in small groups of 5/6 with patients undergoing dialysis over a digital platform to interact, create and perform a selection of performances collaboratively devised.

Their article outlines the joys and setbacks of this ambitious project, whose success can be summarised by the observation of one of the students:

[T]hese lessons showed me how important it was to care for those in our community who are isolated and in hospital. I’m really glad we did this.

They come to the conclusion that the fun and joy that can be generated by Drama and Theatre was a vital component in their unusual project:

If we are to understand the impact of our intergenerational project, we must agree to centralise joy as an intention, process and valuable outcome that has improved the wellbeing of young people and patients alike.

The concept of wellbeing is central to Sofia Martyn’s article, The Art of Wellbeing through Drama/Theatre Education, which focuses on:

how wellbeing can be integrated into the life of an international school by identifying its intrinsic links to a well-taught drama/theatre curriculum.

Martyn provides us with a brief history of the concept of wellbeing from Aristotle’s concept of Eudaimonia, often translated to signify ‘happiness’, through to the present day. Her research method was to organise informal interviews with twenty colleagues from two international schools in order:

to elicit their views about wellbeing, the value of drama/theatre education in relation to wellbeing and the provisions for wellbeing education that were currently offered in their schools.

She notes that:

Students’ broader development and wellbeing receive more attention in several countries with better academic attainment than in England. Schools in Finland, Sweden, Australia, and Singapore vary in whether provision occurs in specific lessons or is integrated into subject learning, but they all place greater emphasis than schools in England do on students’ overall development, and social and emotional learning (Bonell, C. et al. 2014: 1).

Her findings are very interesting. While it might have been supposed that students would place greater emphasis on getting good exam grades:

The responses from the students aligned more to a desire or priority for wellbeing, rather than for academic achievement.

Likewise, many of the staff were similarly – and surprisingly – of a similar view. As one leader and teacher of science remarked:

Education is about being a well-rounded, critical thinker, who wants to learn all their life and engage with other people, who has compassion and empathy, who understands, manages and regulates themselves; so I think that Theatre plays a crucial role in all of this (Interview E 2021: 00.06.59-00.07.21).

Martyn’s findings highlight the need for schools to focus their initiatives beyond academic growth, but also on the social-emotional development of students. However, the tension at the centre of her study is that the view of the Arts in the International Baccalaureate:

The arts subjects are viewed by many IB stakeholders as less rigorous, less important, and less applicable than the other subjects comprising the DP model (Elpus n.d.: 36).

This is hardly surprising when the rules for the IB curriculum state:

Students may opt to study an additional sciences, individuals and societies, or languages course, instead of a course in the arts (International Baccalaureate®: 2019).

Martyn’s argument for Drama and Theatre as key to delivering a curriculum centred on wellbeing is well made but she identifies a key issue: everyone has to commit to it:

A whole-school wellbeing initiative that considers what wellbeing means and the roles that all staff will play making it part of daily life is fundamental, but it needs to be agreed on amongst all stakeholders.

As we re-emerge out of the pandemic, her research and her article provide a valuable contribution to the debate about this increasingly significant issue for schools, their staff and their students.

We are reminded by Fautina Brew in her article, Create to Learn: an experimentation of drama pedagogy in the Ghanaian classroom, that conditions of adversity in some places of the world are not just the result of an infrequent episode like a pandemic, but are the conditions of ordinary life:

Most primary schools [in Ghana] do not have electricity, so the windows and doors of the classrooms often remain open throughout school time to allow ventilation and light. The open windows allow noise from one classroom to reach those surrounding it, so quietness is a preferred in this environment.

As a result of these conditions:

Most teachers follow traditional methods of teaching entrenched in stringent GES regulations that barely make allowances for teacher innovative practice. This is governed by the expectation that the teacher is required to cover a specified number of topics within a term.

The resultant concept of education is what Paolo Freire described as a ‘banking’ concept, in which:

the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits (1996: 46).

However, Brew’s article describes a ground-breaking project, ‘Create to Learn’, which is aimed at challenging these conditions:

In the first attempt to experiment with drama pedagogy in Ghana, thirteen primary schoolteachers who had no drama background were introduced to process drama by the researcher.

Her article methodically records the ways in which the project tackled the key issues which were inhibiting the progress of the teachers: rigidity of teacher pupil relationships, demystifying what she terms ‘monster’ subjects like Maths and Science, and dealing with time constraints, excessive noise and large class sizes. Her project reflects similar key concepts at the heart of the articles above:

Fun, excitement and positive relationships are almost prerequisites for learning to reach its full potential (Pritchard 2009: 103).

Her determination to pioneer Drama pedagogy in Ghana has an important strategic aim:

Drama pedagogy in this sense could replace the rather tense Ghanaian classroom with an exciting space where children can gain the relaxation their brains need to enrich their learning.

The results of her work are heartening. Teachers reported:

The children understand the lessons better. It has increased my output of work. When I give them exercises, they are able to do them and then I give them more.

The strategy was effective because I would normally have done a number of lessons to achieve what I achieved in that lesson.

We commend her pioneering spirit and look forward to hearing more about Drama education in Ghana.

Also with a connection to an African country, Ethics and Research-Based Theatre: Reflections from Two Practitioners byJemma Llewellyn and Taiwo Afolabi describes a research-based theatre project connecting two continents: Africa and Europe:

It focuses on two case studies where the practitioners are from two distinct cultures and countries that continue to feel the impact of colonisation, Nigeria (Africa), and Wales (Europe).

The connection to historic colonisation of both countries is a key concept that informs the theme of this article. Taiwo Afalobi reflects:

Every aspect of Nigerian society is influenced by the country’s colonial past and later globalisation. Growing up, I was thus subjected to Western ideas by every institution involved in my socialisation. For instance, although there were three indigenous languages (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) in the school curriculum, we were not allowed to speak any of them in school.

His co-author, Jemma Llewellyn, also provides her experience of colonisation:

Growing up in Wales I was not taught in school or at home about our ancestors’ roles in colonisation. I only became aware of this historical reality through trying to understand the context and purpose of land acknowledgements in Canada due to having an unexplainable connection to the land in Wales… For Welsh citizens there is an inherent desire to not be labelled English. I discovered that Wales was colonised by the English in the 13th century, which saw the Welsh language being prohibited and Welsh citizens colonising Patagonia to preserve it. My most recent discovery was that the Welsh were unsuccessful in setting up a colony in what is colonially known as Newfoundland.

Their article allows for these two distinct situations to engage in a dialogue in order to interrogate the varied effects of colonisation:

[It] examines ethical tensions and entanglements that arise when working as a volunteer and professional director outside of the academy with multiple stakeholders including teachers, university students, young carers, a playwright, youth arts organisation and social services.

The article discusses the nature of research-based theatre, which:

has been and continues to be a growing phenomenon within academic fields of research, including health sciences, social sciences, and the arts.

To assist with a definition they quote Kathy Bishop (2014: 66):

Research-based theatre encompasses but is not limited to ethnodrama and is included within applied theatre.

At the heart of their article is a description of two different projects. One involved Corneille Theatre, a theatre company in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the project taking place in the Baskuy School community with 30 pupils and two teachers and a municipal government administrator. The other project took place in a coal mining community in the South Wales valleys, involving Mess Up the Mess theatre company, young people from Carmarthenshire Social Services’ Hidden Harm programme, the University of Trinity Saint David theatre students, professional actors, youth who attend the company’s weekly theatre programme, and Welsh playwright, Bethan Marlow.

Their central guiding question is:

What are my responsibilities as a researcher? Has the appropriate ethical clearance from the university human ethics committee and/or other relevant organisations been obtained? What other responsibilities, above and beyond the traditional researcher role, must I, as a theatre-based researcher consider? What other ways could the ethic of justice be represented in our field? (2014: 67-68).

They take a critical stance towards institutional research ethics boards:

Thus, how do institutional research ethics boards determine if researchers can be objective when conducting research with youth? Furthermore, from what I have observed inside the academy thus far, Altruz’s (2006) concept of ‘personal space’ contradicts the ideology of the academy, and, in reality, such boards reinforce the colonial narratives of academic intellects distancing themselves from everyday life.

Their argument has four key focuses that the article goes on to illustrate:

  1. Ethical protocols inside the academy
  2. The quantitative and qualitative divide
  3. Perpetuating colonial narratives through language inside the academy
  4. The RBT practitioner

Their conclusion is that:

We must therefore take our thinking outside scholarly research to understand and give way to undiscovered or ostracised practices because of the indoctrinated ways of knowing that the academy legitimises.

Their article is also an attempt at pioneering in their field:

This article has not only assisted us in directly discussing some of the issues related to the two sides of the globe, but we present these ideas about RBT as a way to go beyond the abyssal line and emerge with a better understanding and respect for this work.

The conclusion of the article with the words of Paulo Freire (2017: 244) seems most appropriate to their intentions:

Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

Isabelle Gatt’s ‘restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry’ is focused on her journey to create a single practical theatre event with young people which took place in Malta, as part of the Trikki Trakki festival. Her article, Of Valets or Clowns? the adaptation process of Molière’s Don Juan for Young People:

describes and reflects on the process of adapting and translating a classic theatre text, Don Juan by Molière, into a twenty-minute performance in Maltese to be performed by a class of eleven-year-old students.

It shares a central connection with all the articles in this issue in that it interrogates the concept of knowledge and knowledge creation:

The pedagogy and process used for this Don Juan production was intended to give the students an experience and an understanding of theatre-making rather than packaged knowledge as a commodity to be learnt and attained (Ellsworth 2005).

Her article is a diary-like record of the experiences of this endeavour with all its challenges and triumphs:

I will include accounts of the pedagogy-planning rationale, action, students’ comments  as well as  photographs which I hope might help give a sense of this process of creating the performance, even if, the ephemeral nature of both can never be recorded except in the experience of those present, both actors and audience, and remains ‘in their hearts, their minds, their souls’ (Sanderson 2013:137).

The aim of the Trikki Trakki festival that the project was geared towards is:

to introduce students to at least one classic play through the process of theatre-making as they experience how theatre comes into being,

hence the choice of a play by Molière. It is essentially:

a low-budget festival, with quick changes between the six performances so there is an emphasis on minimal set, props and costumes using creative sustainable methods..The semi-circular greek theatre three-step set provided an all-purpose set with levels and entranceways in the otherwise bare black box theatre for all the six performances.

The story of the production is well told and conjures for Drama teachers everywhere the highly recognisable glimpse of the typical Drama teacher at work:

For our third two-hour [clowning] workshop, I took in masking tape, rolls of foam offcuts, scissors and red noses.  Other resources included music recordings, buckets, pillows, ropes, balloons, balls of string, newspapers, a plastic sunflower.

As with all the projects described in this issue the sense of fun created was an essential component:

Though I insisted on rigour and discipline, there was an atmosphere of fun throughout the process, also because this was comedy we were working on. 

The photographs accompanying the article are clear testament to this sense of enjoyable co-operation, as are some of the student reflections:

I had not realised the amount of work in working backstage, in fact I am so grateful for  the dancers’ collaboration. They rush to give a helping hand as soon as they finish their opening scene. We work as a team, eveybody working on the props, putting them in place, taking them out on stage and all as silently as possible (JS backstage).

Gatt concludes her article by identifying the essential quality of trusting the process which is manifest throughout all the articles in this issue:

In trusting the process, messy and uncertain as it seemed at times, my objective was to offer an experience of embodied practice as we collectively negotiated and explored the text physically, imaginatively, rationally and emotionally.

The final article in this issue, The Role of Register: Register Theory and its Consideration in Theatrical Performance by Andrew Novell:

looks at the application of register theory in the theatrical context and as a potential educational approach in pedagogic drama. 

His reason for taking this as his focus is that:

Although registers have been studied in a variety of social and literary contexts, relatively little has been written on their function within performance.

He feels that the concept may be of particular use ‘as a novel means to introduce A-Level Theatre Studies and college entry level students to non-naturalistic texts’. By way of defining what he means by the term ‘register’ Novell provides this definition by Gregory and Carroll (1978: 64):

Register is as well the realization of the semantic possibilities of language.  It defines what can be meant in situations.  Register is, then, culturally determined since it is the culture of a society which determines the patterns of environments in which language can occur.

Clear examples of what he means by register ‘may be encountered in the readily identifiable forms of the prayer, the sports commentary, the advertisement, and even the diary entry.’ 

There are three main components to register in any given situation: field, tenor and mode:

Field, tenor, and mode roughly correspond to the three functions of language: ideational (the representation of experience), interpersonal (the expression of roles) and textual (construction of the text).  Together, these elements can be seen to create the characteristic register associated with a specific situation type.

Register has an important function in identifying contexts:

A sports commentary, a church service and a school lesson are linguistically quite distinct. One sentence from any of these and many more such situational types would enable us to identify it correctly (Halliday 1964: 87). 

Because his focus is on registers in theatrical contexts, the examples which Novell provides in this article include an announcement typically heard in a theatre context, a scene from Václav Havel’s play The Memorandum, and an extract from Brecht’s The Mother. To aid our understanding the author has kindly provided audio clips of the various Fields, Tenors and Modes in action.

There is a clarity to this article which is very refreshing. The definition of the act of performance provided by Fabb (1997: 223) is particularly clear:

Performance is a frame whereby the speaker takes responsibility towards an audience for the correct, complete, and skilled realisation of a particular way of speaking. The performer enters into a contract with the audience whereby the performer undertakes to speak in a way which realises the features of the way of speaking. The audience is thus both enabled and permitted to evaluate the performer’s speech in terms of how well it realizes the features of the way of speaking: this requires explicit knowledge on the part of both performer and audience of some of these features (Fabb 1997: 223).

Through this lens Novell also provides insight into the nature of what Brecht called ‘gest’:

This kind of social gest can be traced even in language itself.  A language can be gestural, says Brecht, when it indicates certain attitudes that the speaker adopts towards others: ‘If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out’ is more gestural than ‘Pluck out the eye that offends thee’ because the order of the sentence and the asyndeton that carries it along refer to a prophetic and vengeful situation (Barthes 1977: 74).

The author expresses surprise that register theory ‘remains largely unapplied to the context of theatre’: it certainly does appear to provide insight and understanding that Drama teachers may well find useful. And there is territory still to be explored:

For example, how do registers function differently in ‘community theatre’ or ‘immersive’ events, where the roles of performer and audience – or addresser and addressee – are nowhere near as clearly delineated?

Perhaps there is also untapped potential for new discoveries and insights in the Drama (and English) classroom:

Register theory in the classroom potentially holds much practical potential, and one method to promote this would see the development of systematic schemes of work built around text analysis through registers.

In conclusion, Novell leaves us with the thought that:

Ultimately, perhaps the application of register theory may prove of most significance for A-Level students studying Theatre Studies and English Language, and those looking toward entry to professional performance programmes at drama schools or universities.

It’s a good thought!

Chris Lawrence

National Drama

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