Drama and Theatre Education

Text by: Fresco Su

Drama, Art Education and Me

Drama is something intriguing. The first time I participated in it was at the age of twenty-five, when a friend who was the president of a college drama club invited me to play a part. In spite of my minor role as an amorous heartbreaker, I attended each rehearsal and became more actively involved as the performance date approached. Our show was welcomed enthusiastically on that day, and I was overwhelmed with delight and pride in the midst of flashing lights and rounds of thunderous applause.

I became officially engaged in the field of drama in 2007, when I became a member of an organisation in Shanghai called Uncertainty Theatre and also got involved in folk theatre group Down-Stream Garage/ Mecooon Space. In addition to daily rehearsals and performances, I staged an annual theatre festival with drama lovers. I embarked on my work at a modern art museum in the same year. Since then, “drama”, “art” and “art education” have gradually become a part of my life. It was also from that moment on that I started the journey of “knowing myself”.

When it comes to “knowing oneself”, I have to mention Thales, an ancient Greek philosopher. One day, he was asked what the most difficult thing was in the world, and he replied “knowing yourself”. Later, famous philosopher Socrates regarded “knowing thyself” as the core of his philosophy research. Montaigne, French thinker during the Renaissance, once said that the most vital thing in the world is to know yourself. “Knowing yourself” becomes an essential issue since it motivates self-observation and introspection; thus, humans are able to separate themselves from others, to define their own happiness as well as the truth and accordingly to control their destiny and achieve life aspirations.

‘Knowing yourself’ tends to be realised with the help of a certain medium or measure. For example, reading an article, watching a drama, experiencing a parting or life and death. Recalling my growth process, having an in-depth understanding of myself and exploring myself are all related to drama. The more I am involved in drama, the more it went beyond entertainment; drama has additional rich functions.

If the constant drama practice allows me to realise the multi-functionality of drama, my work of art education in the modern art museum inspires me to think about how to combine drama with education. When I pulled up the corner of a curtain, I immediately discovered the exciting wealth of treasures hidden behind it. This fascination inspired me to devote myself to research and development in such areas. Under the guidance and help of my directors, I came to study the postgraduate program of Drama and Theatre Education at the University of Warwick in Britain in 2010.





如果說不斷的戲劇實踐使我意識到戲劇具有更多的功能性,那麽在藝術館從事藝術教育工作便啟發了我思索如何將戲劇與教育結合起來。當我掀開這窗簾一角,我立刻意識到這之後激動人心的豐富寶藏,便決定將此作為今後的研究領域和發展方向。2010年,在藝術館領導的指引和幫助下,我來到英國華威大學(University of Warwick)學習教育戲劇和劇場的研究生專業。


Art and Education

After the one-year postgraduate program, I stayed in Britain and continued to do my research, for the purpose of acquiring more theories on art education and conducting art practice, enabling me to better understand the values underlying art and its relationship with education.

In the recent century, the very concept of art was challenged through the practice of, two significant artists, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys. The former took a lead to demolish the technical threshold of art in the artistic palace; the latter simply attempted to abolish the distinction between art and life and waved the flag of ‘everyone is an artist’, arguing that art does not need specific material results like exhibitions or performances and emphasising that what counts more is conversation about the world in which we all live.

In that context, then, art does not merely function as an object, nor take beautiful, sacred or abstract forms presented in galleries and museums for a handful of people to appreciate; art’s core value lies in being an accessible platform for people to engage with. It does not mean that everyone should be an artist or the people working in art industry. Dancing is not necessarily for becoming a dancer and drawing is not necessarily for becoming a professional painter either. Art creates various means for people to observe, experience and explore the world and to enrich their understanding of their life, just as Beuys said, “everyone is an artist”.

In terms of education, logic, dialectics, and some scientific principles are supposed to be mastered, yet these subjects are far from enough. In formal education, introspection and observation are often overlooked; these can be reconstructed through artistic education. Young children who are just learning about the world surrounding them are necessarily helped by an artistic approach. The role of teachers, in the mean time, needs to be reconsidered. Teachers need to break free from the stereotype of being top-down information in order to develop more creative pedagogical practices and welcome new academic possibilities.

Art, therefore, should not only serve as a discipline or a ‘game for the minority’, but also be more actively integrated into teaching activities and as a means to acquire and expand knowledge. Art should work as the basis of human life and education.


藝術存在至今已有三萬多年,而其發生最大的轉變卻是在這近一百年。這一百年裡有兩位重要的藝術家,一位是杜尚(Marcel Duchamp),另一位是博伊斯(Joseph Beuys),其中一個帶了個頭,將藝術的技術門檻從藝術“聖殿”中生生拆走,另一個幹脆直接試圖取消藝術與生活的區別,舉起“人人都是藝術家”的大旗,宣揚藝術並非需要有具體的物質結果進行展覽或演出,而強調人對社會生活的參與,與之產生直接的對話和聯繫更為重要。




The Problems of Our Education

Education has remained a big problem for all ages. Even in many western countries, education is sometimes criticised as being too utilitarian and inharmonious with demands of the progressing talents of society. In China, education problems are deeply rooted and it is hard to explore these problems further.

Influential British arts educator Sir Ken Robinson said that their education system cultivates people in the same way as we exploit the earth — with the utilitarian purpose. When it comes to today’s utilitarian society, such education is likely to help kids seek financially satisfying jobs in the future, but does not tap into existing personal values, recognise and pursue beauty or discuss about and develop insights into moral and ethical matters. As ‘subjects’ of utilitarian education, students are therefore denied the best things life has to offer.

Despite thirty years of educational reform in China, teachers still focus on imparting pragmatic knowledge which may allow the students to eventually earn a living. School education is college-oriented; the humanities are all but ignored and even art education itself tends to be empty, utilitarian, blind and vain.

In our result-oriented education system, the constant pursuit of test scores turns the art of teaching into something rigid and mechanical. In order to make the effects of teaching easily assessable, either in knowledge-based disciplines or in the humanities, students’ individual understanding and digestion of the world will be ignored and replaced by a single standardised answer, all while they are systematically ranked and defined as either good or bad.

In classrooms, students are often treated as ignorant, while teachers consider themselves owners and authorities of knowledge, transmitting information and imposing knowledge on students without dialogue. However, if students’ personal experiences, feelings and thoughts are unable to merge into learning, they are only passively involved in class. In fact, students should be the real subjects in teaching activities and teachers should act as the facilitators of interpretation. An education system in which students are not subjects and teachers only work as executors of education measures and deliverers of teaching contents not only runs counter to the real purpose of education, but also goes against the changeable relationship between teachers and students, teaching and learning.

Sir Ken Robinson believed that diversity of human abilities should be redefined and uncertain futures embraces innovation more. With high expectations of their kids, parents send them to school, hoping they will learn skills and enjoy a bright future. Actually, kids who used to be different from each other are undergoing a uniform transformation in the education assembly line. Their most valuable uniqueness, talent, imagination and creativity are being erased little by little rather than being developed further.

Our discussions about democracy are mainly conducted from a political perspective; however, far more than a political topic, democracy serves as the foundation of human civilisation and permeates every aspect of life. Education should also be democratic. Only by taking democratic measures in education can we truly carry out humanistic education and make cultivation of aesthetics, creativity and imagination possible; only in this way can children really learn to respect others and work in a team. In this regard, the fundamental contradiction between system and quality education becomes a big flaw underlying in our education.


英國的肯·羅賓遜(Sir Ken Robinson)爵士是藝術教育領域影響頗深的一位學者,他說到:我們的教育體系培養我們的方式正如我們開採地球的方式,以功利為目的。在一個功利社會的背景之下,此種教育或許可以有利於孩子在未來謀取一份職業,但缺乏對個人價值的挖掘和激發,缺乏對於美的認識和追求,缺乏對道德、倫理的討論和感悟,學生作為受教育的主體“人”,其生命中最具靈魂的部分實際上是被蒙蔽的。






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.








The Program of Drama and Theatre Education

Relevant programs have currently been set up in some universities and colleges in Britain, Australia and America, among which the University of Warwick, a Top 10 University in Britain, enjoys highest prestige and first-class faculty in this regard.

The program at the University of Warwick aims to providing schools, educational institutions and community centres with courses and teaching methods. Boasting a scientific structure and richly-experienced teachers with wide-ranging interests, it enjoys a considerable flexibility and accordingly satisfies students who come from various academic and cultural backgrounds. Based on students’ professional backgrounds as well as career experiences and aspirations, teachers help them choose topics of term papers and directions of their graduate theses. Through one-year programs of academic study, students are equipped with fundamental theories of drama and theatre education along with teaching and research skills. After graduation, they are capable enough to work as lecturers in the area of drama and theatre education at schools, consultants at theatres, educational officials in governments, head community theatres or apply for PhD.

As a program which integrates academic theories and practice, it attaches great importance to the balance of teaching theory and making artistic work. During my stay there, chairs were arranged in a circle in the first-half class and theoretical learning was conducted; in the second-half period, chairs were all removed and each student was asked to engage in the workshop. Theories were understood by means of practice and teachers imparted drama experience and teaching approaches step by step and hand by hand.

Thanks to a good cooperation with a few drama and educational institutions, including the Royal Shakespeare Company and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the college arranges workshops and offers students chances to watch dramas from time to time; it also invites distinguished specialists in drama education such as John O’Toole to conduct workshops or give lectures; in addition, it organises students to participate in drama education summits and observe experienced teachers giving class and even assisting them in making practice at local schools. With a variety of teaching and learning forms together with a wealth of practical activities, this program stimulates students to consolidate acquired knowledge, broaden horizons and build resources, thus helping them to lay a solid foundation for their future academic research and teaching.

The principal teacher in this program, Professor Joe Winston, is a leading figure in the field. He is widely published. He takes deep interests in aesthetic education, the role of stories in drama education, application of Shakespeare in teaching and second language teaching with the aid of drama. He has also published many books about drama education, such as Beauty and Education, Beginning Drama:4-11 (which has a Chinese edition), Drama, Literacy and Moral Education 5-11 (also in a Chinese edition) and also edited Drama Education and Second Language Learning. Motivated by a long-term interest in China, he has visited Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou more than once and carried out workshops and other teaching activities there. Exchange with China’s education industry and accumulated experience of teaching Chinese students allow him to develop a better understanding of China’s educational environment and background as well as demands of Chinese students.

Professor Jonathan Neelands, another well-known teacher in the college, serves as the chairman of the Department of Drama and Theatre Education at Warwick and is the prize-winner of the National Quality Teaching Award enacted by the British Higher Education Academy. His sensitivity to education modes under different political systems allows students from different educational backgrounds to have deep insights into education.

Rachel King, a major lecturer, used to be the class manager here. She is quite experienced in dealing with specific problems and urgent requirements that Chinese students encounter in their learning processes. Taking all elements mentioned above into account, Warwick is a second-to-none choice for Chinese students to study Drama and Theatre Education.

I would like to emphasise that as an educational discipline, Drama and Theatre Education is especially created for students who will devote to education in their future career and therefore applicants with only a drama background should think twice.

Since this is an interdisciplinary major, anyone with education or drama background is qualified to apply and applicants with backgrounds in both are preferred. It is not necessary for them to have teacher’s certificates, but they should not only have interests in teaching children, and have interest in working in local schools where they can gain practical experience before going to study in Britain, which will definitely benefit their academic life here. Besides, they are required to submit a personal statement, in which causes for selecting this program are clarified.

MA Drama Education and English Language Teaching (ELT), a new program in teaching English by means of drama, is set up in the college. Applicants interested in it can get more information from the Warwick website.



由於華威與外界一些戲劇及教育機構有著良好的合作關係,例如皇家莎士比亞公司(Royal Shakespeare Company)、伯明翰話劇團劇院(Birmingham Repertory Theatre)等,院系會不時組織交流工作坊和演出觀摩;院系還會不時邀請國際上其他傑出教育戲劇從事者,例如約翰·歐突爾(John O’Toole)等來為學生開展工作坊或進行授課;此外,院系還會組織學生參加相關的(戲劇)教育峰會,及去當地學校觀摩教學經驗豐富的老師進行現場教學,並協助有意願的同學選擇當地的學校進行教學實踐。多樣的教學形式加上豐富的業內活動使得學習生活立體,大大有助於學生鞏固知識、開闊眼界、結識同行、建立資源,為今後從事學術研究或教學工作打下基礎。

該專業的主要授課老師喬·溫斯頓(Joe Winston)教授是該領域的領頭人物之一,他在各種專業期刊上有諸多發表,眾多文章被國內外該領域認作最具職業及專業性的學術文章。他的學術研究領域包括美學教育、故事在戲劇教育中的角色、莎士比亞在教學上的應用以及用戲劇來教第二語言。他出版過眾多教育戲劇的書籍,例如 《美和教育(Beauty and Education)》、《開始玩戲劇:4到11歲(Beginning Drama: 4-11)》(已有中文譯本)、《戲劇、語文與道德教育:5到11歲(Drama, Literacy and Moral Education: 5-11)》(已有中文譯本)以及參與編輯的《教育戲劇及第二語言學習(Drama Education and Second Language Learning)》。溫斯頓教授一直以來對中國十分感興趣,他曾屢次造訪北京、上海、廣州開展工作坊及教學活動。數年來通過與中國教育行業的交流以及對中國學生的教學經驗的積累使得他對中國的教育環境、背景以及中國學生的需求有了很好的了解。

另一著名的授課老師喬納森·尼蘭茲(Jonothan Neelands)教授是華威大學教育戲劇和劇場專業的主席,也是英國高等教育學院所設立的國家級優質教學獎的獲得成員。他對不同政治體制下的教學體系具有相當的敏銳度,使得來自不同政治環境背景的學生對教育能夠產生更加深入更有針對性的理解。

另一主力講師瑞秋·金(Rachel King)曾做過課程負責人,她對處理中國學生在學習過程當中出現的具體問題和需求有非常充分的經驗,這使得對於中國學生來說,華威成為選擇學習教育戲劇和劇場十分理想之地。



另外,院系今年開設了另一門用戲劇方式來進行英文教學的碩士學位課程--戲劇教育與英語教育(MA Drama Education and English Language Teaching (ELT)),有興趣的同學可以去網站搜尋相關信息。


Currently being applied in various teaching areas like Chinese literacy, foreign languages, history and geography and etc., drama and theatre education is particularly vital for humanities. Drama’s unique democratic and open way of teaching helps it not only become humanised, motivational and acceptable in teaching, but also play a constructive role in developing children’s personality, emotion-management ability, teamwork, critical thinking and morality; its colourful, wide-ranging teaching methods as well as art elements inside make it inevitable to foster children’s aesthetic, curiosity, imagination and creativity.

Due to long-term development of art and education concepts, a large amount of manpower and capital spent in research and practice, changes in productivity and production relations and the constantly progressed society, we have no excuse to confine our kids to the conventional teaching and learning mode, such as blind recitation, imitation and copy. Those who say “not to make a bet on kids” and “so much afraid of taking a joke of kids’ future” are actually lazy intellectually. Everyone needs to face the laws underlying social growth, seek means to bridge the gap between institutional flaws and future demands and cultivate imagination, creativity and aesthetic so as to adjust to the uncertain future.

Wealthy practical accumulation of drama and theatre education together with a solid theoretical foundation endows it with considerable possibilities in the future, which makes sense for both educational programs set in governments, schools and educational institutions and those students who determine to treat education as their life-long career. Huge possibilities and rich innovation incorporated in theatres enable them to yield something as big as the civilised system of democracy and also nurture greater wisdom and feelings which are a must in the establishment of a more advanced human civilisation. I hope more people would benefit from it.







© 2011 ART.ZIP all rights reserved.  ISBN 977 2050 415202

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