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Theatre in Education Methodology

May 14, 2018

Bobby Colvill & Terina Talbot are both senior lecturers at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Here the explain some of the aims of Theatre in Education.

The aim of Theatre in Education (TIE) is to raise questions concerning what it means to be human. Either by focussing on social issues and problems, such as racism, drugs, knife crime, or by exploring more conceptual themes such as Asylum or fear of freedom? These will either take the form of a question or learning area, or a more explicit didactic message, usually to meet a particular brief.

The aim of a particular TIE programme can be decided before the devising/rehearsal process begins or can arise out of the process, depending on factors such as, funding, events in the world, whether there is a script for the piece.

In a devising process the early part is spent artistically searching for the holding form- the dramatic moment or story that embodies the educational element of the programme. In devising a programme about Asylum for 10-11 year olds, I came across the story of the Irish potato famine and the resulting migration to North America. This story was a rich container for the ideas and issues at the heart of the concept of Asylum, an internationally agreed principle that is under attack. The process was then one of stitching dramatic moments together to create a not only a play, but a whole day’s drama in which the young people could participate.

If there is a pre-existing script for the TIE programme- often commissioned for a particular company or issue- the early work is about discovering how the issues or concepts are embedded in the structure of the play. So, you might explore the images in the play, what they make us think of, how to construct them for the audience. You might explore the language in the play, how the writer has created the world of the play through the language, how the different characters speak? As this is an artistic process for TIE, the focus isn’t on the characters, but on the play, because the play is a (central) element of a drama event.

Although the aim of TIE is pedagogical, the artistic process is intuitive. It is about the ideas or issues existing in the dramatic form. In the play Bone Cage by Geoff Gillham, a young woman is being transported somewhere (to the yard) in a locked cage, by an older man who pulls the cage along. At the end of the play another young woman unlocks the cage, but the young woman in the cage will not leave.

This simple dramatic moment contains a very problematic question for us, why are people afraid of freedom? The question is asked through the form of the drama though, we know she is in danger, so why will she not leave, how could we persuade her? The questions have a dramatic imperative because we have seen her story, trying to get to the bottom of it matters.

In most TIE the question at the centre of the piece does not get asked explicitly, because it is asked implicitly, in the drama. In an issue based drama, although the subject is explicitly known, that because it exists in the drama form, it has significance. We know the story, we know what’s at stake for the characters, we have had to put ourselves in their shoes, and therefore it matters beyond the words on a leaflet or the advice of authority.

This is why TIE, at its best, provokes, usefully, our response. We respond with our minds and feelings, with our present and past experiences, with our imagination and values. The story’s, dramatic moments, images in TIE, open up, not close down, they are rich in a content that resonates with the lives of the young people, they provoke questions not deliver messages, they evoke the imagination.

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