Process In Cultural Salvation
by Joe Woodward
Heathcote died last year on 8 October 2011 (obituary
weren't for John
O'Toole and some other wonderful people
Boite Theatre in the late 1970s, I may never have come to
this remarkable woman.
Born on 29
August 1926, Dorothy Heathcote began a cultural revolution in the
arts and particularly in the way Drama was used as a means of
cultural action, liberation and as a change agent. Her work was
influential all around the world and the subject of film, pedagogy
and art. She developed a way of approaching Drama called "Mantle
Of The Expert"
in the 1980s. Clearly much of her thinking has been taken up and
extended by the depth of study provided by Professor John O'Toole.
While extremely successful, it seemed to halt with the move to more
formal and reductionist education practices with the development of
the UK National Curriculum.
UK National Curriculum was first published in 1988, and then
followed by the Literacy and numeracy strategies. For a long time
Dorothys work was overlooked and ignored. In fact, by 2003 the
situation seemed so bad that Gavin Bolton wrote, If mantle of
the expert is to become part of curriculum structure, educationalists
need to acquire a vested interest in fundamentally revising current
conceptions of education. They must be prepared to inspire
politicians, advisers, headteachers and their staff of all curriculum
subjects and introduce it into teacher-training. Left to drama
teachers alone, Dorothys moe will die with her.
(Dorothy Heathcotes Story,
Gavin Bolton, Page
years later, John O'Toole is heading up a process of introducing a
National Curriculum for the Arts in Australia. Ultra-conservative,
corporate and reductionist thinking has taken Australia to the crises
of formalizing learning in the same standardized way that proved
divisive in the UK. Can John O'Toole remain true to his core reason
for his life's work and withstand the pressures of reductionism and
commodification that go with standardized and narrowing curriculums?
Or will he
be burnt and used to marginalize the arts, and particularly Drama.
The fear and suspicion is that the Arts, including Drama, will be
used to placate a "literacy" agenda while integrating Drama
as a tool or pedagogy to suit the aims of corporate power; just as
19th Century education was used to support industrialization. This
suggestion, within a broader context, is supported by Professor
Raewyn Connell from the University of Sydney in her article Ideology
Of The Marketplace Underpins School "Reforms" (The
Drum 16.03.2012). She suggests that "... a competitive testing
regime has become central to Australian education policy." She
goes on to say:
also why our policy-makers have turned away from negotiated
curricula, community participation, multicultural education, and the
other democratic initiatives in education that don't go with
competitive testing and managerialism." (Raewyn
Connell: The Drum)
She goes on
all, where the testing regime is in force, it means pressure to
teach to the test and that means narrowing the curriculum,
reducing the richness of education." (Raewyn
Connell: The Drum)
As in the
UK and elsewhere this kind of commodification has been applied, we
need to be focused on what is essential and not be distracted by the
clutter of cackling change agents with ambiguous directions. In a
culture which encompasses diversity, imagination and intuition, we
must question the ultimate outcomes of such reductionism. Our
education system cannot ignore the cultural diversities and value
systems which prize community cohesiveness as much as technological
and corporate advancement. This is not to suggest technological
mastery isn't important. Far from it. But it does suggest
difficulties in meshing with reductionist policies and philosophies.
And the momentum is towards mechanistic and formalistic outcomes that
marginalize artistic and spiritual values.
already happening here!
on by the Business Council of Australia, our Federal Labor
Government is on the point of re-introducing that fine 19th century
innovation, Payment By Results for teachers." (Raewyn Connell:
imagine that teachers who are so identified as achieving high results
on standardized tests will not go to the highest bidders with their
newly glowing CVs in evidence? Just as any ambitious person in the
corporate world would go to "better" companies to fulfill
their career ambitions? So in the end, who will gain here?
language of "Quality
Teaching" as originally articulated in the United States
and now adopted in Australia, one might imagine that our educational
directions are moving in exactly the opposite direction to the
commodification and reductionist testing models that are currently
being developed and engaged. With concepts of
"differentiation", we might imagine that we are encouraged
to plunge into the potentials of every individual and group. Yet this
opening statement on the Australian Government Education
website, this seeming contradiction is highlighted:
quality and the strength of school leadership are recognized
as the greatest school-based determinants of educational success.
Quality teaching has a measurable impact on student outcomes."
teaching involves content that is rigorous, integrated and relevant.
Content of high intellectual quality helps students develop stronger
critical and creative thinking capabilities. Students in classes that
are regularly provided with tasks of high intellectual quality show
marked improvement on standardized
assessment tasks regardless of their previous achievement levels.
(Curriculum Leadership Journal: March 2007)
these statements there is a direct explicit agenda of relating good
teaching with results on standardized tests. Effective teacher equals
high results on standardized tests. "If you can't measure it; it
How do we
measure generosity of spirit? Love? Cohesive actions? Heroism?
Supportiveness? Hate? The ability to accept difference? Empathy?
Anxiety levels? The ability to overcome obstacles? Insight into
social and cultural situations? And the ability to produce sounds
that transcend the ordinary (ie. musical composition)? What NAPLAN
test is going to examine any of these qualities and so rate a
school's performance accordingly? Let alone a teacher's competency!
schools' funding depending on the extent to which they are compliant
with Government initiatives and community anxieties about their
children's education, are not schools being forced to apply
"quality teaching" for success in the tests? Something I
remember from my attendance at a Catholic School in 1958 and the fear
exhibited by the Nuns when the Government Inspector was arriving to
check on our achievements in spelling and tables!
might suggest that the contradictory language of Quality Teaching and
NAPLAN et al would seem to suggest that the language of "Quality
Teaching" is designed as a means for compliance. Should it be
challenged from within schools, such challenge would be regarded as a
threat to the viability of the school and so ultimately all
opposition to the changing structuring within education will be
silenced. Edward de Bono calls
context, it is interesting to view the likely issues faced by the
Chair of the Arts National Curriculum committee in Australia.
O'Toole's later work suggesting the engagement of Drama tools, as a
means of designing a more effective pedagogy, is of more significance
than the exploration of Drama as an art form in its own right.
in Dramatic and Virtual Worlds: What Do Students Say About
Complementary and Future Directions?", Journal of Aesthetic
Education, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter 2008he
has clearly moved away from the areas of Drama as a collective
living art form and opted for a design approach to pedagogy. While
this is a most useful contribution to the integration of drama
processes into education, it could make those engaged with the Arts a
those old arguments about "drama or theatre".
always been interested in the integration of Drama into all areas of
the curriculum. His Pretending to Learn (O'Toole & Dunn,
2002), prescribes a pedagogical approach that can be used in all
subjects. Might then, the National Arts Curriculum, mandate Drama as
an add-on as part of suggested methodology for core-curriculum
studies with some acknowledgement of its "theatre and performing
arts" original art form status? Might it even provide
opportunities for the ideological advancement of contributions by
Heathcote and Bolton et al?
now is that Visual Arts and Music have clearly defined areas
identified within their bodies of knowledge. Drama does not! And
within an educational setting, it is unfortunate that the outstanding
contributions of Heathcote, Bolton and O'Toole have possibly confused
the understanding of the field or domain of study. I have rarely
heard a Drama teacher, let alone anyone else, adequately define
precisely what is the field of Drama. Can you in one sentence?????????????????
and 1980s debates about process drama, traditional drama and theatre
allowed a welcomed break from previous understandings of theatre
within education (as a branch of English); however, they diluted the
boundaries and made the field of study idiosyncratic and with vague
connections to art form definition. While Bolton's excellent
identification of "inner form" might be applied across the
curriculum, it is most valuable when applied within the field of
theatre or performance study.
separated from art form boundaries, it risks becoming a kind of
therapy; in the hands of naive or untrained persons, it is possibly
dangerous and unethical. And how many times have we seen teachers in
various subjects suggest in-role enactments as a means to make their
subjects and units really LIVE?
clearly aware of this problem.
One of the
most formative experiences I had as an educator within a Drama /
Theatre context was a phenomenological /Drama /workshop / seminar
conducted by Gavin Bolton and organized by John O'Toole in 1979.
Bolton made it perfectly clear to all his student participants what
the boundaries were. They were able to step in and out of role at
will. There were clearly defined times for reflection, clarification
and refining. While the "inner form" of their experience
was paramount, the external manifestation of it also became very
clear to the workshop observer.
purely theatre perspective, it was an example of Stanislavski's
finding of the inner truth, the "what if" of the situation
and the exploration of the "given circumstances". But it
was done in a way that very few theatre directors would ever try. And
now it was being offered for teachers. Once everyone was aware of the
boundaries, it gave them freedom to explore and take on roles well
outside themselves and outside their limited experience of the world.
problems for inner-form working arise when the boundaries of the
art-form are not exposed and not explicit. Drama as an In-Role
activity has been demonstrated as a most effective way of tapping
people's responses and opening doors for exploration into reality.
However, when it is not linked in an explicit way to an art form,
problems will arise. And so I suggest that any attempt to set up
in-role explorations without an explicit artistic context with the
built-in "distancing" that is essential in creating art,
without this, such attempts are open to extremes of unethical and
extreme example of where a lack of boundaries and distancing occurred
can be identified in the notorious Stanford experiment of 1971. The
use of in-role and exploring the "experiential" modes
within set-up circumstances led to horrifying results. Similar, and
possibly just as damaging results, can occur in schools when the
working in role is not strictly and explicitly defined within art
tools and methods might be useful in Psychology, Social Sciences,
Language studies and other fields of study, there are problems that
must be addressed when used outside of the boundaries of the art form
or field of study. While Psycho Drama is a standard tool in some
areas of Psychology, it requires a medical relationship between
therapist and participant. Drama is not about such a relationship.
Stanford Experiment: an extreme example of where Drama techniques
were employed outside the context of artistic creation with the
boundaries of the art form.
likely result in schools though, is that diluting the concentration
of art form boundaries and definition through integration with
non-art from fields will result in more immediately superficial
outcomes. This will also mean diluting the quality of teaching as
less emphasis is placed on teachers skilled in the relevant fields of
study. Arguments that suggest the viability and desirability of Drama
across disciplines need to be very cognizant of such considerations.
last year, I had a wonderful pre-service teacher working with me. She
took my classes and was very articulate and unusually skilled in the
methods of Brecht, Stanislavski and others. The students loved her
and wanted to work with her. As it happened, she had worked in
theatre for many years and had lived in Gaza, Palestine, New York and
a number of other cities with diverse populations. I tried to explain
what I did and where I was coming from in my techniques. In passing I
mentioned Dorothy Heathcote. I was horrified to learn this amazing
woman had never heard of Heathcote or the types of methods she used.
know it then, but my discussion took place in the week that Dorothy
Heathcote died. It was after this discussion that I realized that
everything I had done in the last thirty years was heavily
influenced by the ideas and the inculcation of approaches that were
inspired by Heathcote, codified by Gavin
Bolton and imparted to me through John O'Toole.
It was then
distressing to hear that some advice being given by the University Of
Canberra to my pre-service teacher was to "keep the young kids
in year seven happy; don't attempt anything too serious". This
smelt to me like a dumbing down attitude to keep the kids electing to
do the subject. It also smelt like the rotting carcass of a body of
knowledge that needed resurrecting. It smacked of Drama viewed as a
"frill" and not as something essential.
Drama must be a creative process. Most people would agree with that.
But it must also involve some physical shape inherent within its
framing: that is, space, time and observable connection. Heathcote, Viola
Spolin and others established the need for "play"
(like children's playful activity) as another essential ingredient.
Others have gone into detail about what constitutes the elements of
drama. If we acknowledge that each attempt at definition is going to
be flawed, we can at least become cognizant in the way we approach
says it all when he suggests all theatre needs is an empty space, a
spectator and a person entering the space! When the participant steps
into the acting space, he/she leaves behind the cultural/social
reality of one's real life experience. A new reality is constructed;
a reality that can be challenging and/or confirmed. The educational
value of this is derived from the physical, emotional and
intellectual engagement and the emotional intelligence required for
investigating when in this space. But it is also essential that one
be able to step outside the space; step across the line back into
one's own personal dramaturgy of everyday life. Assess what has been
explored. Spiral it down to a sussinct expression. When this space is
not clearly defined, there is not the freedom to truly construct
different universes and realities. The in-roles may still be a
confusion of personal realities with constructed realities. Thus
limiting the freedom to move beyond one's cultural tunnel vision. And
this was the essential problem with the Stanford Experiment. There
was no time to step out of space and examine it before stepping back
inside. There was no director providing the external eyes to feed
back to the participants. There was no group or personal reflection.
There was not an atmosphere of trust. There was no explicit FORM
through which to relate and gauge the effect of the role play.
phase of existential decision making and repetition to allow the
resultant shape to be recreated and performed was never part of the
experiment. Pardoxically, it is the moving towards externalization of
in-form discovery that safe-guards the participants and the process.
Artistic distance is the safeguard.
separating Drama from the demands of an expressive artform misses
this essential point. Subjectivity and personal explorations need to
be recognized. However, without the discipline of working towards
objectivity and the assistance or dialogue with an audience, the
process may well be hijacked and creativity lost. While Gavin Bolton,
Dorothy Heathcote and John O'Toole have largely been concerned with
working through an Inner Form that cannot be repeated as performance,
the paradox is that such work will enhance the quality of
performance. And if such work never results in performance, the fact
of it gravitating towards some kind of external outcome will actually
increase the power of the work for the participants.
is a powerful educational tool and agent for change and cultural
evaluation. It derives from a very different place from the
traditional theatre background developed in the UK and Europe. It
requires an even higher level of art form expertise than the typical
director of theatre might possess. If we apply the thinking of these
Drama pioneers to education, theatre and art generally, then we
enrich our ability to penetrate cultural tunnel vision and so open
ourselves out to a more responsive vision of the world and its possilibities.
only hope that the intensity of commitment to art, education and
cultural enrichment held by teachers and practitioners of Drama and
theatre can influence and inform the shape and scope of any National
Curriculum formation and implementation. One can only hope that the
spirit and platform laid by Dorothy Heathcote and others will remain
like steel within the foundations of Drama as a creative and regenerative
process in cultural renewal and salvation.
Joe Woodward as Puff in School
For Clowns, La Boite Theatre 1978
directed by Sean Mee
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