Theatre in Education: a promising title; for the simple reason that theatre is essential for pupils and scholars to cultivate their imagination and develop their feeling of interactive collaboration and creativity. But does this notion works in schools even just as another module in the school program?
To explain myself: from my personal experience every art lesson and the like is just another occasion for amusement between kids. Furthermore, the school’s theatre group has always been in my years under the sovereignty of some “charismatic” children who decided to take the best parts and leave the practical stuff to the rest. Since then, things changed, theatre is officially a module in the school program and this is the best start for a serious confrontation.
The following research took place in the High School of Paiania (Lykeion Paianias) through the school period 2001, 2002 and on the second semester. Theatre module was taught by the teacher of Modern Greek Language and it was realized during the seventh hour (the last one), every Thursday. The theatre group gathered after the school was finished on the same day, under the instruction of the teacher we mentioned, the teacher of English Language and the teacher of Music (who was subsequently writing the music for the final performance, as well). Not the best given background either for the lesson or for the activity after it to flourish.
The last hour of every school day is always slow and a bit of a glitch itself. Pupils do not give the best of themselves, teachers doing the same. Both they are more than anxious to hear the divine sound of the bell ringing. Furthermore, choosing this hour for artistic formation of young people tend to make the whole effort a bit ridiculous and unable to function properly.
I have to mention that this module is optional and is not in the core of the main lessons, in other words this module is not graded in the finals. So whatever pupils do, their willingness or unwillingness does not count in the end.
In general, only half of the pupils attended the lesson, the rest of them always finding an excuse to leave earlier. Bad enough, this lesson was cancelled once or twice due to great number of absences.
The lesson had, very resourcefully, the form of a workshop. The existing book for the module did not contend the pupils, they found it boring and complicated. So, Mrs. Helen did her best to explain the basic concepts of theatre as an art of expression and as a special written genre. As I learnt throughout the days, when my presence there was established, the teacher had some formation in special seminars for teachers who want to teach this module effectively. I cannot say that was enough, but it was, naturally, better than nothing.
The place allocated for this lesson was the school gym. The gym was spacey and numerous benches were holding the pupils’ impatience. I should mention that pupils were nor extremely attentive, neither on their ease. They felt somehow awkward, boys being even shyer than girls. Here comes the outlook of a typical day’s lesson, because variety was anyway a bit scarce during the semester.
Mrs. Helen is leading all the scholars to some exercises, her main point being relaxation and feeling good with body expression.
-Set in a semi-circle. A number of about 20 pupils on the total were in such a formation to have optic contact with each other, so as to achieve the so-called group feeling.
-Deep breaths, inhale-exhale several times. Then small moves of the head left and right, then they repeat similar moves with hands and legs.
-Walking round the gym in both directions, keeping a neat order as if they were a body, trying to move as a swarm, in fact.
-Body language: moving in space as an individual, creating still images with the technique go-stop! Then discussing the results, then trying to put their feelings into statues and trying to guess each other’s intention.
The next step is to divide into groups of five or six and recreate in their own will within the neat lines of a given subject. Today’s subject: in a numerous meeting, something unexpected happens…Improvise! The teacher asks for a simple plot; the story should have a discernible start, middle and an ending. Speech can be omitted, if wanted, and the improvisations could be based on pantomime.
Three groups are formed: the first one presented the following situation:
-A father takes her daughter to the church, and gives her proudly to the broom. The bride’s lover enters furiously. A fuss begins between the guests, he walks to the broom, and he punches him and takes the bride with him, leaving the broom lying on the floor. The group consisted of girls, who used pantomime to make themselves understood. And they did it in the best way.
The second group had some difficulty in clear expression. Most of them, boys and girls felt awkward with what they had to do and the only thing an audience could get was that some people are dancing, then, suddenly a fight starts. It had the air of comic gangs, funny but not coherent.
The third group did not even have the time to make something up. Their ideas are not applicable they say, or they don’t agree with each other. They start nagging, the bell rings.
Personally, I would regard much better a technique to devote one week to theatre theory and the next to theatre practice. For example, Commedia dell’ Arte would be a good subject for both. First studying the typology of characters and after that trying to incarnate them, choosing between inamoratas, Punchinello, Pieroto, Dottore etc.
Having the obligation to hand in an assignment at the end of the year should be a motive for quality work and better performance. The assignment could be in written form, a primary research on a subject or a certain performance or show within groups or individually.
Taking part in the school theatre group is optional. Not a great number of children were willing to take place in the “experiment” this year. Four girls, five boys and, all of them needed for the same number of roles in the play and one girl used as a prompter. The real making of the play, as the directing and costume designing, the setting and everything else that a show needs to take place were on the shoulders of the actors and their teachers. Thus, the whole planning of the presentation lacked in strength and resourcefulness.
The past four years, the play was given in the end of the year, in the final celebration at the school’s courtyard. Parents were helping, costumes and scenic items, even the stage were made with a group effort of the whole society of Paiania. This practice was useful, but left many of the pupils out. Those who did not opt for taking part in the effort from the start did not have any motivation to do so in the meanwhile and were left out of everything; they stayed the audience, while parents and teachers intervened with every little detail.
The play was usually chosen by the teachers, according to their own preferences, I can even say their own youth. This year the play “Oi kourabiedes” was chosen, a play by Giorgis Chasapoglou, written on 1986. As you can imagine, this play interferes with Greek reality in the years of nineties, a period rather far away of the contemporary reality and way of living (regarding the rapid rhythm of changing and progressing in Greece the last years). Banal themes of television impact, overbuying, labor manipulation by the rich and so on remained totally shadowy and uninteresting to young actors. Moreover, they explicitly showed with their behavior that they regarded theatre more than an escapade from hard and studious reality than a means of social criticism.
Needless to say, the rehearsals were barely moving any further. The young actors did not learn their lines, did not have the feeling to reincarnate their heroes and could not ever cooperate with the teachers. Some unexpected events such as some strikes and national celebrations led to the abandonment of the plan to conclude the play and give the representation. A semester’s efforts were in vain.
The overall view of the whole project was more negative than optimistic. Still great support is needed to shape this new module and make it an organic part of the school life. The most important matter stays, of course, the matter of teachers. Should they be better educated, orientated thoroughly on the subject or in the best situation being specialists on theatre studies, things would be easier for both parts. Another thing: thorough meetings organized between students and actors, directors or producers –in short the show-business professionals- would give a better idea of the real thing. Short lectures of theoreticians of theatre would also be great help. In general, better organization would give extra motivation to pupils to participate and do not stay the audience.