Seeking the aesthetic in creative drama and theatre for young audiences

Journal of Aesthetic Education 39 (4):12-19 (2005)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The Journal of Aesthetic Education 39.4 (2005) 12-19 [Access article in PDF] Seeking the Aesthetic in Creative Drama and Theatre for Young Audiences Nellie McCaslin Introduction Is an aesthetic experience ever achieved in a creative drama class or in attending a performance of a children's play? If it is, how do I know and how can it be achieved? This is a question to which I have given much thought and in so doing have been flooded with memories of my own passion for theatre in all its forms, first as a child and years later as a teacher. These memories have shaped my perception of the aesthetic presence, elusive but powerful, which comes in its own way and in its own time. The following is an account of revisiting those memories in the light of today's practices and objectives. The result is not a scholarly piece or approach to the question but simply a record of one person's journey through the theatre arts as she experienced it at a particular point in time, when the pedagogy and the terminology of today were nonexistent, or at least were not generally known. Nor, I might add, was the question.From that journey through time, I have reached a few tentative convictions. First among them is that the most important element in teaching creative drama or producing children's plays is the one too often marginalized by practitioners today in their pursuit of practical ends and contemporary issue-oriented scripts.1 It is the aesthetic. Is theatre an art form worth studying in its own right or is it an educational tool, appealing to administrators and producers because it is effective? I believe that it is an art and should be taught as an art form first and foremost, but that skillfully done, it can accomplish both objectives. The grey area between art and education is difficult for the inexperienced teacher to negotiate without the loss of one goal or the other. It is the intent that charts the course. [End Page 12] Early Recollections What was it that first drew me to the theatre? Was it the play? The players? Or the combined skills of all who were involved in the production whether it was a professional company in a theatre downtown; a puppet show at a community center; "dramatics" in the classroom, when the teacher allowed us to "act out" a history lesson or favorite story; or an assembly program put on by the eighth grade in the school auditorium? To me, they were all theatre, and theatre in whatever form it took was magic. To us, theatre was real, regardless of the performers or the venue. Even the puppets ceased to be inanimate figures in the hands of an artist who shared his belief in their reality with his young audiences. Indeed, the puppets assumed human proportions before our eyes and have remained so in my memory ever since. Was this not just as much of an aesthetic experience for us, the viewers, as the performance of living actors? I believe that it was, although at the age of eight I had never heard the word "aesthetic" or stopped to analyze my reactions.The reason, among others, for my lack of discrimination as a child was the fact that in America at that time no differentiation was made between what we did and what we saw, never mind who did it. There was a clear distinction between the amateur and the professional; it didn't concern us. We flocked to the few shows, both amateur and professional, deemed appropriate for children, and we made up shows of our own in our own backyards. Our shows were improvised (another term we didn't know then), but even minus a script, it was still theatre because we believed in it and so did the little ones on our block who were the audience.It was Winifred Ward, an American pioneer in the field, writing a few years later, who was to distinguish between process and product...

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