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Drama is so much more than child's play

As schools and local authorities grapple with many-headed budget beasts, how do those of us who are professionals in education respond? Where do we turn for inspiration and to make our defence, when the onslaught may seem random, ignorant, Philistine? How can we make our elected representatives see the benefits of budget-ravenous education, as against the sweet reason of saving the swimming pool or keeping the streets clean?

I would argue: by harnessing the transformational power of the expressive arts. I have just spent several months working with creative young people on a drama project which became part of the "Choices for Life" initiative. Nairn's modest success may have wider relevance.

Our little drama emerged from workshop sessions in which a group of 12 to 14-year-olds came to talk about their experiences. Their articulateness and honesty confirmed that the issues surrounding drugs and alcohol are not primarily matters of individual lifestyle choice or isolated decisions, requiring people to acquire more information so that they will, rationally, "Just say No!"

Rather, these issues are intricately woven into the fabric of social groupings, power and exclusion, dominant and subordinate cultures which challenge our young people daily. The Nairn youngsters spoke of the "popular crowd", the group which can make outsiders feel invisible.

The Nairn drama group was brilliantly able to turn its experiences into a moving play, Roxy's Choice. A melange of overhearings and the hyperbolisings of boastful peers, sieved through strong dramatic instincts, and developed through improvisation over two months, this play had the audience gripped and the VIPs delighted.

A small victory, perhaps, and not an original approach; but a template? In the honest processes of the expressive arts, do we not find the imaginative and affective core of where our young people are? Do we not see the power of each child's learning style and co-operative practice fully realised? And may we not examine the daily challenges which our society places before us?

Aren't the skills nurtured in the expressive arts central to what schools - and local authorities - should be developing, especially in these straitened, stressful times?

Michael Gregson, drama teacher, Nairn Academy.

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