My 'Epiphany' About Drama as an Agent for Social Change
I took over the Year 12 Drama class at the beginning of Term 2. The program for the year had already been set and included a community drama project that had become part of the drama program at the school. I had never undertaken this type of project before but, with some reservations, took on the task.
Unit of Work at an Aged Care Centre
Here were the steps involved:
The First Visit
1. A visit to a local aged care centre was organised. After a general tour of the facilities, and an introduction from the director of the centre, students were paired with residents for face to face interviews focusing on what life was like when the aged resident was a teenager and/or young adult.
Prior to the visit students had been given the following directions:
a) They were shown how to ask open-ended questions not just yes or no answers that would ensure the residents provided usable information .
b) Students were asked to keep an open mind in regard to the performance which was to follow, and not to ask leading questions that might limit what residents shared.
c) They were advised to seek as much detail as possible about specific events in the lives of the residents that would form the basis of scenes in the performance.
d) A careful written record or an audio recording of the interview was to be made.
e) Residents were also to be asked what they would like to see in a performance.
Extensive and intensive de-briefing sessions were conducted; during which all students shared their interview experiences. It was surprising to me how some students, in such a short period of time, developed a bond with the resident they had interviewed. Some residents had shared very revealing and intimate insights into their lives. There was a sharing of events of great tragedy or pathos or history; and in addition very humorous events were shared. Prior to this many of the students had no interest and very little understanding of what life was like for their elders. Discussion naturally ranged far and wide about events and issues of the past. Instead of merely reading, hearing or viewing information that may or may not lodge in their brain, students had received it first-hand from someone who actually experienced it. In the sharing of that information, real emotions were involved and real accounts about effects on family and friends shared in a way that left a much deeper impression.
Students then embarked on a brainstorming process to find a common thread/theme that could be used to develop a performance that would bring to life specific events and issues from the lives of the aged residents. A series of mind-maps were created which provided the basis for further discussion and workshops.
(N.B. It is very important to allow the brainstorming process to flow. It may be that along the way some really good scenarios eventually emerge out of initially disconnected ideas. Don’t even look for links to start with. Only when all the ideas are out and recorded on mind-maps on the walls of the drama space should students start to consider how they are going to create a performance out of it all.)
* Explain to the group that all ideas must be accepted and recorded on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard.
* There are no good or bad ideas, there are only ideas. The creative mind needs to be given permission to flow freely, without limitations. It’s only when ideas are flowing freely that truly inspirational ideas begin to flow. The creative potential is the same for every human being but for some creativity is choked by external censorship or negative self talk.
* Once all ideas are recorded, the group begins to process those ideas. The aim of the process should be consensus, not domination by a few confident and pushy individuals.
* The group should accommodate as many ideas as possible within the framework of the performance. This principle of accommodating as many ideas as possible often produces a completely unique performance.
* Links then need to be drawn between the different ideas and from that, a scenario is developed. The scenario is the skeleton of the performance.
Workshopping and Scripting
Through a thorough process of workshopping and scripting, the drama took shape. Students researched the historical period and found appropriate music, props and costumes; then set about, within the limitations of the performance space (in the aged care centre) and the budget, recreating real events from the lives of residents within the framework of a fictitious family.
When all was ready the group then returned to the aged care centre for the performance. The performance was ‘magical’ in the way it re-created the whole era in which it was set and all performed extremely well.
However that is not what impacted me most because as compelling as the performance was, I struggled to give full attention to it (keep in mind I needed to evaluate students performances as part of their assessment in the drama program) because I kept being drawn to the reactions and responses of the audience. Without exception they were watching with complete attention. Some of the people in normal circumstances may have found it difficult to stay focused in a one to one conversation. Faces were filled with childlike awe. I watched enrapt as a myriad of emotions played across their faces. There were nods of recognition and lots of laughter in regard to what was being played out. Tears rolled down cheeks when something touched a deep buried hurt or remembered pain or grief but there was something very pure about it all. There was no sense of manipulated emotions or exploitation of past hurts. Instead as I watched mesmerised by it all, the ‘epiphany’ came. This was human interaction on a deep level. This performance meant as much for the performers, as human beings, as it did for their audience. This was a moment of deep human interaction and, if I am not deluded, a process whereby a degree of healing was taking place. For the student performers the generation gap faded away and there was a real connection with the past and the people who not only experienced it but had created it. For the aged audience it was a connection with a generation of young people many had no previous experience of. Age prejudices dissolved and a moment of oneness occurred.
Sadly, despite the impact this experience had on me I have never had the opportunity to organise this sort of unit of work again. My short contract with the school ended and I went on to work in schools where policy, program and set curriculum did not allow for it. I always had in the back of my mind to make it part of the program in the future but here I am reminiscing about one of those special events in my long career as a teacher.
I hope however that I’ve generated enough interest so that, at some time in the future, other drama teachers will read this post and take the same journey discovery.