Drama on the run: A prelude to mapping the practice of process drama

Journal of Aesthetic Education 39 (4):58-69 (2005)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Drama on the Run:A Prelude to Mapping the Practice of Process DramaPamela Bowell (bio) and Brian Heap (bio)In the current educational climate prevailing in a number of countries, increased emphasis is being placed on the concept of "the artist in schools." Funding is being channeled to support a range of initiatives and schemes that are designed to bring arts professionals from all the art forms into the classroom where they place their artistic talents, knowledge, and insights alongside the pedagogic skills of the teacher.We see exciting projects in which artists work with children in school—visual artists to create murals, musicians to compose and perform operas, dancers to choreograph new ballets, and actors and directors to devise plays. Many of the outcomes are of high quality, and the children who have been fortunate enough to be involved have enjoyed the experiences and have gained a great deal from them. This would seem to be a state of affairs to be applauded unreservedly, as such projects surely enrich the lives of the pupils and schools in which they take place. In one sense, of course, this is undeniably true, and we have no intention of suggesting otherwise. However, in reality, this is a much more complex situation. It raises a number of key issues for us as educational practitioners who work in the field of applied theatre, sharing with others, as Judith Ackroyd describes, "a belief in the power of the theatre form to address something beyond the form itself."1The most critical issue is the perceived separation of the artist from the teacher that can sometimes be encouraged by artists in schools projects. We sense a dangerous precedent here. It becomes all too easy for two erroneous assumptions to be made, namely that teachers cannot be considered to be artists in their own right, while artists on the other hand can be accorded [End Page 58] the status of teacher. In our own experience too, the nature of educational funding can be extremely volatile, subject to all kinds of shifts in the prevailing political and economic climate, as well as adjustments to the ways in which funding is applied according to the social and educational priorities of the time. Too frequently, education falls victim to what might be described as "the-flavor-of-the-month syndrome."Those who are involved with teacher education, both pre- and in-service, make superhuman efforts to respond with alacrity to the new demands as courses are reviewed and reorganized accordingly. The trainees of the next generation find themselves with a new "party line" to toe as their courses conform to the new priority. This is all well and good—until the priority changes and gaps suddenly appear in the knowledge or skills or understanding of teachers. What was received wisdom becomes a deficit model as focus changes, and the circle is now expected to be squared.Under these circumstances, it would seem a more prudent policy to train teacher-artists who would have the ability to meld their pedagogical understanding and skill with an aesthetic craft and sensibility than to rely on visiting artists as the "natural" or "normal" providers of arts education. This would ensure not only that teachers would make better, more informed use of visiting artists but also that children's expertly guided engagement with the arts would be a permanent and enduring aspect of their regular schooling rather than a "special" event subject to the vagaries of arts funding or policy. This might seem an easy statement to make for people such as ourselves, who have spent whole careers working as teacher-artists within the field of drama in education. But it might seem an altogether more daunting prospect for teachers, or intending teachers, who are not specialists in the arts.Having spent a great deal of our respective careers working in teacher education, we are very conscious of this possibility. To this end, our research collaboration has been centered on exploring and coming to understand more fully, clearly, and precisely how the teacher functions as an artist within the particular genre of applied theatre known as process drama. Embedded within the increase of our...

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