Webpage Supplement to
Chapter 8: Creative Drama and Role Playing in Education
Revised September 20, 2007 See Index for other webpage supplements.
Although children have participated as actors in pageants and other relatively scripted forms of theatre throughout history, the idea of helping young people improvise is more recent. In Japan, before the turn of the 20th century, a Dr. Tsibuchi wrote about the values of a improvised drama in children. In England, Harriet Finlay Johnson also wrote about a similar vision. H. Caldwell Cook wrote about the values of imaginative play in 1919.
As mentioned in the book’s chapter, he generally acknowledged major pioneer of creative drama was Winifred Ward. The late Nellie McCaslin began in 1937 in the theatre arts , and gradually, interested in Stanislavski’s growing influence, gradually introduced more improvisation in her teaching of secondary school students. This was more supported by some training in Hollywood, around 1941 by Ms Ouspenskaya who promoted Stanislavski’s methods. The key was to ask, “what happened next?” in a way that goes beyond whatever the scriptwriters wrote. Imagination is thus engaged. Around 1944, McCaslin began to work at the National Teachers’ College in Evanston, Illinois, and in the mid-1950s, she observed several of Moreno’s open sessions in New York City. She felt the term “dramatics” was too suggestive of just putting on skits, so preferred to call this work Creative Drama. She had just completed the 9th edition of her widely used textbook when she passed away.
From McCaslin’s perspective, Peter Slade, writing “Child Drama,” promoted the use of this medium for its potential to produce joy, with all of the motivating and mind-expanding elements involved. In a slight contrast, Brian Way working a decade later was more involved in drama’s applications in learning about subject matter, in history, social studies, etc. It should be noted that a fair number of creative drama teachers integrate methods derived from the process-drama approach espoused by many in Great Britain and Canada (see the Chapter on that).
McCaslin cautioned against the staging of plays and musicals that are in certain ways “too old” for younger students, and thus offer little actual dramatic value for the performers. She also was wary about another trend involving the “artistic” device of bringing modern political themes out in ancient traditional stories; McCaslin found that a bit patronizing and confusing. More of Professor McCaslin’s reflections are found in a related webpage: xxxx.hm
drama tends to view cultivating imagination and spontaneity as having
their own values, apart from using drama to help learn a subject.
Generally, creative dramatics is used by those in the primary grades,
and theatre arts classes in secondary schools are generally focused on
the learning of component skills for scripted and rehearsed
plays–musical theatre, comedy, drama, and the like. These are produced
for the community and also for interscholastic competitions. There are
auditions for the best actors, hurt feelings for those who don’t “win,”
and a need for a great investment of time and effort, whether one is an
actor, stage hand, or ticket-seller. Creative drama, then, is aimed at
developing the skills of imagination, spontaneity, vivid embodiment,
and mental flexibility, aside from any particular subject matter (such
as is done more in process drama.)
Jean Prall Rosolino,
the troupe's manager, writes:
Youth Stages uses creative drama and story dramatization all the time. Our programs fall into the following categories:
- After-school classes: Here we usually use a story as a jumping off point for the dramatizations, however the story is always inevitably changed by the group of children enacting it. With younger children (ages 4-2nd grade), we enact a story as a full group, allowing for numerous children to play any given part simultaneously and to change dialogue and action to meet the creativity of the group. With older elementary students (3rd-6th grade) we usually break them into small groups of 3-5 students and let them create their own version of a story thus allowing their artistic freedom, while structuring it theatrically. Sometimes sessions are not story based and students are encouraged to create their own original story.
Creative drama warm-ups/theatre games are used (Spolin-type activities), but always in a thematic way, never in isolation (we don't play a game for the sake of playing a game or just learning a skill, the purpose always ties into the whole picture). For example, I would not do mirror exercises for the sake of doing mirror exercises, but if we were working on The Snow Queen as the story we were playing around with and dramatizing, the Prologue has to do with Imps and a mirror that reflects and increases ugliness while downplaying and destroying goodness. That is a perfectly inherent and dramatic use of mirror games. I would have the children explore mirroring one another, then mirroring back the movements with different attitudes.
- In school settings: We often design our programs to tie in with other areas of the curriculum. We use the tools and techniques of creative drama to bring, most frequently, literature or social studies to life. Creative dramatists need material to dramatize, so why not use material the children are currently studying! We may have children reenacting The Boston Tea Party or recreating scenes from Charlotte's Web. Again, we focus on process, not product; the experience for the participants, not the experience for an audience is of greatest importance.
- Workshops: These are most often one-time sessions. We are frequently asked by libraries to dramatize books in a workshop setting (especially for summer reading club programs). As per the blurbs above, these sessions change depending on the kids and their interests and strengths. If every little girl wants to be the princess and the boys all want to be the pea, then the actor-educator becomes the prince and all the other characters...while simultaneously finding an active/dramatic role for the pea to play in the story! Preschools often invite us in to cover thematic teaching units; winter/getting dressed, spring/planting etc. so we use creative drama
activities to cover these topics.
- Performances: Our acting company of adult actors perform scripted plays for children (3-5 years, 3-9 years, or K-6th grade audiences). Youth Stages performances are always participatory... and you never know what children might say or come up with, so good improvisational skills are necessary on the part of the actors! During rehearsals, we use creative drama games and activities in addition to script work.
- Teacher in-service training programs: Youth Stages conducts a workshop each semester for a local college (The College of New Jersey) where 18-21 year olds are studying to become elementary school teachers. In a single two-hour session, I try to show potential teachers the powerful tool that creative drama can be in their future classroom! I take them through a creative drama lesson plan, then point out all of the core curriculum content standards that were met in
the single lesson! We also conduct teacher training sessions for a number of preschool organizations (NJAEYC, BCAEYC, The Child Care Connection) showing preschool teachers simple creative drama techniques that they can incorporate into their lesson plans.
As a complement to the creative drama work, my teachers are constantly increasing their own knowledge of the various art forms of theatre. Two of my artists are in improv troupes, one in NYC and one in Philadelphia, two that I know of are currently performing locally to maintain their own acting skills, and I took a weeklong session in 2006 at NYU with Dorothy Heathcote, the queen of creative drama!
I agree with Adam Blatner that there is not enough "training" being done in creative drama. (Besides, it's difficult to "train" someone in an improvisational art form!). Some of the colleges and universities offer classes in their theatre departments and some elementary education colleges are requiring potential teachers to take a class, but I think the majority of people learn it as they go...in a classroom or after-school class setting! NYU has a good Educational Theatre Department and Arizona and Texas are know for their educational theatre departments, but I am not on the cutting edge of who's out there and what they're doing. AATE and ASSITEJ are good organizations to connect up with and become a member of!
For further information, contact Jean Prall Rosolino, at: email@example.com or phone 609-430-9000
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Various Quotes and Anecdotes:
"Not only is educational drama more interesting than many other traditional forms of learning, but its visual and participatory nature is particularly useful among those with poor literacy skills. In addition, studies have shown that in general, individuals develop a deeper understanding and remember more when they learn through experience and discovery rather than through lecture or demonstration." (Morris, A., & Stewart-Dare, N. (1984). "Learning to learn from text;" and Hill, S.,& Gray, G. (1987). "Health Action Pack." Excerpted from www.pprsr.org, click on Education Through Drama.)
Linda Ciotola <firstname.lastname@example.org> April, 2005:
I used role reversal in teaching a college course on communications,
primarily to help students gain the knack of putting themselves in
others’ shoes when trying to get their message across effectively. Also
taught doubling as a way of teaching them how to listen carefully and
pay attention to non-verbal messages.
In another class I taught a basic acting class to the beginning theatre majors, and used doubling again to deepen their understanding of the character. In a third context, teaching high school English Literature, again doubling was a technique that I found helped students learn to read between the lines. Actually, this was more than ten years before I discovered psychodrama, so I wasn’t actually teaching Moreno’s technique; rather, I was helping people to attend to the small voices that were very possibly attending the role predicament and hadn’t been overtly expressed.