Drama in Education (1)

The subject ‘Drama’ is still regarded as extracurricular in most of our schools. I speak mostly of the Public Sector. Here we find that Drama is primarily tied to the Elementary Schooling Years with the teachers of the Drama Unit of Malta doing most of the job. The situation gets worse in the Middle Schools and in the Secondary Schools, where, with the exception of the School for Performing Arts, St Margaret College and St George Preca College, where there are two Drama teachers, Drama is only seen as a tool for schools to organize a Prize Day play or also, in recent years, a pantomime. This leads certain would-be reformers to think that Drama-In-Education is all about putting on plays and creating actors out of the children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A study conducted within the European Union, in which I was very lucky to participate, discloses that Drama, as a subject, “improves the Lisbon Key Competences in Education”.

In fact, the DICE Consortium argues that Drama-In-Education and similarly Theatre-In-Education have an impact on five of the eight Lisbon key competences:

    • Communication in the Mother Tongue
    • Learning to learn
    • Interpersonal, intercultural and social competences, civil competence
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Cultural Expression.

So what is exactly Drama-In-Education?

Drama in Education, as well as Theatre-In-Education, is a tool by which pupils are given opportunity to explore autonomously and to come to their own conclusions. It is a tool in itself that can improve the standards of the Arts in a given community. Many times, we are subjected to presentations that are all Theatre and no Drama, or where a given theme is trivialised just to make it more accessible to the masses. One such example, and I know many will disagree with me on this, is the musical Les Miserables. None of Hugo’s themes are treated in the depth they deserve in this musical, which has admittedly some very haunting music (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, On My Own, Stars and more). Instead, it leaves the audience member indifferent. The book is a scathing indictment of poverty, not only of the France of the time but of Poverty past, present and future. “In the Musical version, we have the degrading spectacle of the poor of Paris paraded as thieves and all singing and dancing prostitutes, smeared with dirt but with their nails still immaculately manicured, with a Sweeney-Todd-and-his-wife type pub landlord providing supposed comic relief in snatches between hours of melodramatic attempts to pluck our heart strings.” (David Davis, Imagining the Real, IOE Press, 2014).

In the novel, Fantine, a young woman used by a young man and abandoned when she is pregnant, sells her hair and her two front teeth and eventually herself to protect her daughter. In the film of the musical, her degradation is given relatively little screen time and ends with Anne Hathaway singing with immaculate Hollywood pearl teeth, because, let’s face it, you can’t win an Oscar with missing teeth. This is what I mean by all theatre and no drama. It is a degrading spectacle; “the distortion of history in order to satisfy mass audiences” (David Davis, Imagining the Real, IOP Press, 2014); and this as always goes largely uncriticised. On this subject, the playwright Edward Bond wrote:

“Theatre [is] in a state of decline . . . ‘Don’t look for a meaning. Watch the spectacle.’ This is the ethos of contemporary theatre. Its aim is to make money, its dramatic method is ‘gift wrapping’. Its directing, acting, design – the mise-en-scene – and much of its writing is based on the mass culture of TV and Hollywood-Bollywood-Lollywood film.” (Bond, 2012)

This is what Drama Education, based on creating actors and not educating pupils will lead to. Sadly, this is what is envisioned in Malta by most of our so-called Arts Education Reformists. It is well and good for private Acting Schools to pursue this line of thought, (the industry needs to create actors after all) but where the formation of minds of pupils is concerned, we need to step up our game.

Drama-in-Education is a tool that helps the pupils enquire, that appeals to their creativity, that makes them think, rather than follow the herd. To achieve this, one cannot merely do Drama in schools with the ONLY goal of getting pupils to pass some given exam. I don’t believe Drama-in-Education should be examined at all. Obviously, one cannot do otherwise in the afore mentioned Acting Schools and School for Performing Arts, but in traditional public schools, Drama needs to find itself on the timetable and used to create an atmosphere in the classroom, where the pupil is allowed to explore and to get things wrong. As Sir Ken Robinson said in his famous TED Talk, “we have stigmatised Mistake.” We, as teachers, have taught children that the worse thing they can do is make a mistake. But, as Sir Ken Robinson continues to argue, without mistakes we cannot be creative. Without the possibility of making mistakes, we kill Creativity.

To be continued.

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