This issue of Drama Research has a distinctive international flavour as it contains three articles that report on research studies in countries other than the UK: in USA, Greece and China. Nevertheless, they each draw on reference to work originally developed in the UK.
One of the ‘frames’ that Dorothy Heathcote would commonly used to allow her learners to reflect on and engage with a drama experience, often in a Mantle of the Expert project, was that of the Museum. Learners would be engaged in all the activities appropriate to such venues: creating, arranging and labelling of artefacts and texts developed from the drama; researching and collecting photographs and other evidence; bringing effigies ‘to life’ via teacher-in-role; preparing ‘video clips’ of significant events; organising ‘visits’ to the museum with learners in role as curators and guides, and so on. It is a powerful and engaging frame for learners to work in and from which to develop insights about their work in drama.
In their article, Museum Experience Through Inquiry Drama, Agni Karagianni and Simos Papadopoulosexplore the situation in reverse. Centring their study in a real museum, that of the Historical Museum of Alexandroupoli in Northern Greece, they describe a project where the real artefacts, exhibitions and experiences of life that the museum contains are investigated and illustrated through Inquiry Drama. It is an illuminating and fascinating mirror image of the Heathcote model and highlights what both spheres have in common: the making of meanings.
Meaning-making in education is a significant issue to consider: research into cultural and intercultural meanings in drama education is a challenging process as it is also in museum education, taking into account the global cultural dimension of museum experience (Falk et al. 2013: 66) and multicultural museum experience (Filippoupoliti et al. 2015).
In fact, the authors note that the theoretical underpinning of ‘free choice museum learning’ bears fruitful comparison to Heathcote’s method:
Heathcote’s approach in which students take responsibility for constructing their own knowledge and behave as adults taking responsibility for the consequences of their decisions (Booth 2012: 102) meets Falk and Dierking’s approach to free choice museum learning, interactive museum experience and visitors’ responsibility for meaning making, personal and interpersonal plane of development through museums (Falk et al. 2013).
This an unusual and important study which provides a rare bridge between these two different worlds, to the benefit of each.
Dr. Marnie J. Glazier and Nancy Schur-Beymer appropriately begin their article, A Place at the Table: Applied Theatre and Nursing Tools for Broadening Community College Student Understanding and Inspiring Engaged Citizenship, with a quote from Augusto Boal:
The arts and sciences do not exist in isolation, without relation to each other, but on the contrary, are all interrelated according to the activity characteristic of each.
Augusto Boal (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed
This is the pivot of their study: the authors, who are based in a Community College in the USA (the rough equivalent of a ‘Further Education College’ in the UK), are engaged in a collaboration between their theatre department (arts) and the nursing department (science) through the medium of Forum Theatre (Boal). Once again, the influence of drama/theatre work developed in the UK is acknowledged by the authors:
Health Sciences faculty at the U.K.’s University of Southampton, Middlewick, Kettle, and Wilson, in their Curtains Up! Using forum theatre to rehearse the art of communication in healthcare education, posit:
‘Communication is at the heart of healthcare provision and therefore needs to be at the heart of health education’ (2012: 139).
The largely Hispanic nursing students involved in the project
..have been lower division, community college students, many of them already working on some level (as office assistants, receptionists, personal care assistants, etc.) within the health profession, in their own communities.
The authors’ aim is to provide a ‘place at the table’ for such working class, BAME, dedicated students. Their method is to arrange for their theatre students to act out scenarios that pose particular issues of health care that their nursing colleagues may soon face but which could be experienced and interrogated using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. It is a simple idea but the impact has been encouraging:
‘Nursing students have frequently made comments like:
‘When I heard we’d be doing theatre exercises I was really dreading it, but the experience was so different from anything I imagined,’
‘I was amazed by how much perspective I gained from these exercises.’
Their theatre students benefitted too from this structure:
Such scenarios could be challenging for our theatre students but would also provide an excellent learning tool – reminding them that acting involves not only presence and profound empathy, but often intensive preparation, and that it is imminently noticeable when actors haven’t adequately done their homework!
The insights for them were invaluable. One student, engaged in representing problems of depression observed:
‘I actually became depressed. Even my body, by the end of the scenario, was changed. It took me a while to stand up straight again, to hold my head up again. The mental state affects everything.’
Invaluable information for an actor developing not just a vocal but a physical and emotional vocabulary.
This article is a welcome contribution to the sphere of Applied Theatre as it relates to health care.
The study by Carmel O’Sullivan and Niamh Price, Perceptions of Play and Drama in Education in Early Years Classrooms in China, is set against the background of the Chinese government’s commitment to universalise early childhood educational provision and investigates
..the value attributed to play and drama-based teaching and learning in early childhood education from the perspectives of parents, teachers and Head Teachers from Suzhou in Jiangsu Province.
There are significant challenges faced by students in China
Chinese education culminates in the Gaokao or National College Entrance Examination. It is claimed that the Gaokao is
‘not just a test, but the beginning or end of a student’s future’ (Lucenta 2012: 76).
There have been attempts by the authorities to remedy this austere situation:
Li and Wang (2008) recognize that top down reforms employing imported ideas have resulted in a significant policy-practice gap where teachers are aware of Western style models but there is little evidence of them in teachers’ practices.
Despite State reforms to Early Years Education to transform the sector
‘into a Western-style, progressive model’ (Li and Wang 2008),
little attention has been paid to the area of early years pedagogy and learning through play, including dramatic play. An additional challenge is that
Chinese early years teachers lack skill, experience and confidence in facilitating learning opportunities through play (Vong 2012), and are strongly influenced by the Confucian principles of scholarship, rote learning and academic progress.
This article reports on the study undertaken by the authors in order
To explore whether play-based and drama in education approaches are features of Chinese early years settings.
To ascertain the practices, professional skills and knowledge of teachers in this area.
To consider Head Teachers’ attitudes towards play-based learning and a drama in education approach in early years classrooms.
To gauge parent attitudes towards the role and value of play-based learning and a drama in education approach in their child’s learning.
It is a fascinating study in a fascinating and contradictory country where
..the data reported in this small-scale study, whilst not conclusive, appear to highlight a contradiction in Chinese society. They reflect not only a potential clash between traditional Chinese values and culture and an increased awareness of Western ideology and educational approaches, but a more pressing reality where intense competition for a limited number of university places is likely to counteract any progress which the Ministry of Education hope to achieve in its goal to modernise the education sector by 2020.
If we are critical of, and, perhaps, feel superior to, the driven nature of China’s education system it may be wise to reflect that the Ministry of Education there has a ‘goal to modernise the education sector by 2020’ and appears increasingly welcoming of the kind of reforms towards creativity that process drama can bring to a rigid education system.
In our own country, on the other hand, our own education system appears to be taking the opposite direction. We have a Department for Education which seems intent on driving the creativity out of the education system and imposing the alienating pressures of a market-led, austerity-driven education environment, with Drama and the creative arts excluded from the Government-led EBacc programme. While the Chinese system may be too rigidly informed by the conservative philosophy of Confucius our own system, with its emphasis on transmissional ‘delivery’, appears to be informed by the business philosophy of McDonalds. It is a comparison that should make us profoundly uneasy.
What this volume appears to demonstrate is that, while the achievements made by drama and theatre educators in the UK in the 1970s, 80s and 90s produced a treasure trove of theory and practice in the field, the UK Governments since then have so undervalued this marvellous ‘family silver’ that they haven’t even sold it off: they have simply given it away. Fortunately, the people who have received it, like those in the current volume, appear to have welcomed it with open arms and put it to good use.
Viv Kerridge, Amanda Kipling, Chris Lawrence and Nicky Toneri.
Drama Research Editorial Board.