Drama and Theatre Education

Characteristics of Drama/Theatre Activities and Essence of Drama and Theatre Education

Here I return to my earlier discussion of Greece. Theatre and democracy, two of humanities greatest inventions, both originated in ancient Greece. This cannot be a coincidence, there must be a link between the two. If ancient Greeks regarded “who am I?”, “where do I come from?”, and “where am I going” as the ultimate philosophical questions and began the human exploration of the meaning of life from there, they had raised questions about life through drama and accordingly laid a foundation for the development of human civilisation and society long time ago.

Inspired by history, ancient Greek playwrights wrote plays and arranged rehearsals. On stage, actors in character constantly asked the audience “what should I do?” This question in the face of Greek drama’s moral dilemmas and crises spurred the audience to discussion and reflection while providing guidance. Dialogues made participants, both actors and audience, open to the outside world and put everyone into independent consciousness. It was in such an environment that democracy was nurtured. Therefore, dramatic and theatrical activities possess two indispensable elements for the teaching processes—dialogue and democracy.

The practice of drama has developed over the course of more than two thousand years and has, in that time, undergone many changes, but now as then, in the performing arts, the performers are the real subjects of the theatrical activities. Thus, teaching approaches characterised by the twin mediums of drama or theatre allow students and performers to share the same identity and work as the subjects in creating/teaching and learning processes.

As the most comprehensive type among all art forms, dramatic arts includes performing arts, visual arts, sound effect, choreography, lighting and so on. Each field can be designed into a course boasting a wealth of content. Take performing arts as an example. It not only achieves practices of text comprehension, text writing and verbal expression through the form of stage plays, but also realises training of imagination, creativity, aesthetics and physique by means of physical/dancing arts.

The teaching mode with drama and theatre as a medium is mainly divided into two branches. The first one is Drama in Education, which introduces drama elements into classes, such as “role-playing” or a variety of drama games in teaching. It is unnecessary for students to be equipped with acting skills; all they need to do is being willing to engage in games, play parts, experience a story or complete a task by communicating and collaborating with others under the guidance of supervisors. It aims to stimulate students to experiment on their own without right or wrong answers, rewards or punishments. In such a relaxing and safe teaching and learning environment, children are encouraged to show themselves and explore potential capabilities, so that they will take challenges and solve problems in real life with larger confidence and therefore greater innovation.

The second mode is Theatre in Education. Teachers here are performers, creating dramatic works about topics relevant to students, motivating them to ponder questions raised through performance, spurring them to dialogue and debate. At the same time, the performer-teachers invite students to interact, for instance, asking them for advice and to complete dialogues or to help make choices and decisions, etc. and then continue with performances according to students’ ideas. After the end of plays performed by teachers, discussions are usually carried out. The purpose is to make students be aware of their existence in a larger social context and thus develop a more in-depth understanding of cultural, social, moral and ethical elements and also know how to deal with their relationships with others and the society.

I believe that teaching approaches based in the performing arts such as Drama in Education and Theatre in Education should be explored further by educators. There is plenty of room here to discover and develop new teaching theories and methods and break educational boundaries as well.








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