In my last post, I discussed a general approach to creative dramatics and provided an outline for creating lessons. In this post, I wanted to outline a couple of popular approaches to creative dramatics. Please remember that these approaches can and should be mixed and matched to suit your needs as a teacher both in terms of curriculum and your comfort level as facilitator.
Telling a story: possibly the most common type of creative drama is to act out a piece of literature. As simple as it sounds, performing stories, poems or even songs provides students with a connection between themselves and the thematic content of the literature. Moving to music or a poem can connect the core themes with the more abstract rhythms these forms use as part of their communication.
Experience vs. performance: it is important to keep your goals in mind. Generally the goal of creative drama is experiential. Pretending to cross the country in a wagon train helps students understand the historical importance and difficulty of the of the event viscerally. There is really no need to show the results of this experience to anyone else. Performance is a communication. In creative drama, performance is often not necessary. Unnecessary performances can be time consuming and, quite frankly, boring. That is not to say that a mock senate should not separate into groups to discuss a bill and then get back together to debate it. This is entirely appropriate and part of the experience. On the other hand, several groups of students each inventing the telephone in character, do not necessarily need to share the results as each has had a comparable experience.
Learn first, ask questions later: one of the great creative dramatists, Dorothy Heathcoate, developed a style in which she begins a scene without introduction. Students are not consulted on whether or not they wish to participate. When Jim Bowie bursts in and reports to the settlers at the Alamo that they have 20 minutes to prepare for Santa Ana’s attack and demands to know what needs to be done and then assigns tasks, student have no choice but to be a part of the environment. They are either active or inactive settlers, but none are excluded. These kind of dynamic approaches tie into the student’s natural impulse to play. In addition, the settlers who do not help with preparations are also a part of the experience of the activity to be included in later discussion as participants. Questions such as “why would some settlers refuse to help the soldiers in a situation like this?” would be appropriate. The ability to pull this kind of activity off takes nerve and persistence. But it is quite effective when done correctly.
Here are some concepts I developed to help me ground my creative drama lessons:
1. The “creative” in creative dramatics refers both to the creativity of the facilitator who plans and/or implements the activities and the creativity of the students during the implementation of the activity. One will not occur without the other.
2. Dramatics refers to the process through which the student learns. Drama cannot occur without action or without the presence of conflict which presents choices and/or problem solving opportunities. These opportunities are offered in a safe environment in which conflict is imagined and problems are theoretical offering “practice for life.” This should not be feared.
3. Creative Drama attempts to expand the student’s immediate world through imagination either by allowing the student to move through an unfamiliar environment or by allowing the student to endow his or her self with unfamiliar characteristics. In this way, children learn through experience while participating in creative drama.
4. In their natural state of creative imaginative play, children create a total imaginary environment for themselves. In the more artificial classroom environment, students must be provided with enough information and stimulus to simulate such an imaginary environment. The primary requirement always begins with emotional and physical safety. It requires that the student understand and be comfortable with all elements of the activity. It is only when these criteria are met that the creative learning can occur.
5. Expanding one’s imagination is by definition fun. Pretend is a natural element of children’s’ play. It is vital that the adult facilitator enter the child’s world rather than vice versa. Once there, the facilitator is required to focus activities toward the learning objectives.
Often, teachers are more reluctant to participate in creative dramatics than their students. To perform in any manner is to leave oneself vulnerable in some way. Showing your students that you are willing to trust them with your vulnerability is possibly the best way to earn their trust. Sharing one’s imagination is one of the best gifts a teacher can give to a student. In the next post, I will share one of my favorite creative drama activities.
For questions or comments, I can be reached at [email protected]
Director of Theatre Education
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.