Applied Theatre Discussed At The PSCCA
The transformative power of theatre on individuals and communities was one of the themes of a workshop at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), Mona, last Friday. Part of the University of the West Indies' Research Days activities, the workshop on Researching Applied Theatre, was facilitated by PSCCA head, Dr Brian Heap and tutor coordinator, Michael Holgate.
The former focused on research theory while the latter spoke on Applied Theatre in practice. Specifically, Holgate told the participants about the work that the Ashe company, of which he is artistic director, has been doing, locally and regionally, since its formation in 1993.
Explaining the term 'applied theatre,' Dr Heap quoted from a recent article in a United Kingdom trade paper which stated: "Applied theatre isn't simply the more old-fashioned model of theatre in education - those working in the sector may never go anywhere near a school, but you will find them working with refugees, in the middle of a field, creating a site-specific piece with a community group, in community centres, prisons, youth groups, with charities tackling domestic violence, or working with children with special needs."
Dr Heap added that Applied Theatre was an umbrella term which covered Applied Drama, Theatre in Education and Process Drama. One of the many books to which Dr Heap referred during his lecture, was the international best seller, Planning Process Drama, which he co-authored with the late renowned drama educator, Dorothy Heathcote.
The teaching method can be used across the school curriculum, Dr Heap added. "If you're doing History, you can use process drama; you can use it in Science, in Language. I taught a French class in which we were role-playing working in a travel agency."
He lamented the fact that more research is not being done by theatre practitioners, and drama educators and people generally in the arts in Jamaica. But it was not for lack of potential research topics, he said, and handed out a 50-item list of such topics, saying, "Teachers in classrooms can do action research on just about every drama lesson they do."
Elaborating on the first item on his list - aesthetics - he said, "The concept of beauty is a serious thing in Jamaica. Many of our artists have a negative self image and bleach. What is beautiful? What is our standard of beauty?"
He closed his presentation by reading an excerpt from a recent essay of his in, The Reflective Practitioner's Guide to Misadventures in Drama Education or What Was I Thinking?, a book with essays by well known writers and researchers on the worst drama lesson they'd ever taught. Dr Heap's essay, 'Chicken Merry, Hawk Deh Near,' was based on an experience he had in a primary school in Kingston years ago.
"The theme of the book was, what did you learn? And I learnt, you'd better prepare your lessons before you go in," Dr Heap said, and read the hilarious account of the chaos that arose in the class because of his lack of preparation.
Holgate said that the essential question Ashe asks about its work was, "How can we apply theatre to life?" One answer was through Edutainment - described by Holgate as "theatre for social transformation, the use of popular and traditional cultural forms to educate...entertainment which affects communication, learning and behavior."
Among the many examples of Ashe at work that Holgate gave, was the recent helping of UWI students to cope psychologically with a recent assault of a female student in one of the halls.
"We took a sort of ethno-drama approach," Holgate said."We recorded students exactly as they were talking about the issues and we used some of what we recorded as skits. We created songs and role play from the issues...There was a performance at the end, which we always have, because we believe the performance leads to another level of self-discovery and further inner work for participants."
Another community project by Ashe that Holgate mentioned was carried out in Tivoli last December. The request for help came from the UNDP because, Holgate said, the commission of enquiry into the incursion of the community by the military and police in 2010, "was stirring up a lot of stuff (mentally) for residents."
Ashe conducted edutainment workshops with a youth and an adult cohort.
"We did dance classes, used popular songs that spoke to their issues, we dissected them, we used games, exercises and had a performance at the end for the community."
Holgate said that because of the sense of empowerment that the edutainment gave, participants always "don't want it fi done....Nobody wants that (empowerment) to go away. Anywhere we do this work, people keep wanting us to come back."