Drama is out of the dressing-room

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Marjorie Sweeney enjoys her new job as senior drama teacher with East Lothian Council. Previously on the staff of one of Lothian education department's now defunct theatre arts centres, she appreciates being less of a "fringe benefit constantly under threat," and more "a part of local services - connecting with everything that is going on".

Ms Sweeney is half of a drama teaching team employed under the umbrella of education and community services within the new authority's department of cultural services, which, in turn, includes not only arts and entertainment, run from Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, but libraries, museums, parks and countryside.

The drama teachers made their first connections through visiting every primary and secondary school in the authority to find out how drama can contribute. The results have been a "Drama and Theatre for Schools in East Lothian" programme within which is a series of off-the-shelf workshops, available at various times throughout the school session.

It can act as a resource for at least one curricular area - in English, history, environmental studies, the expressive arts - or in personal and social education, at every stage of the primary and secondary school. For primaries 4 and 5 there is a series of four lessons called "Where the Land Meets the Sea" which uses story and myth to help children explore their local coastal environment.

Extending their own contacts, Ms Sweeney and her colleague, Shonagh Davidson, took part in a primary teachers' in-service session run by a ranger from the authority's countryside services, as part of their research.

As a result of meeting the drama teaching team, the ranger has in turn signed on for a "Drama and Story" workshop which he feels will help his own work with children.

As a further signal of commitment, East Lothian Council has also just completed a consultation over policy for the arts, to be followed at the end of the year by a conference for interested parties.

With a bias towards local culture, the policy will encompass all strands of the arts and all sectors of schools and community. It promises to exploit fully a small local authority's capacity for cross-fertilisation between departments and divisions, an approach Tom Shearer, head of community services, says is "cost effective" in maximising resources.

Mr Shearer points to the Brunton Theatre, which after the Scottish Arts Council axed its grant is now wholly revenue funded by the council, as one "very viable facility" which will form a major component of the new arts policy.

At present being refurbished with National Lottery money, the theatre already offers several programmes within the "Drama and Theatre for Schools" project.

Its general manager, Lesley Smith, whose other position as East Lothian's principal arts officer symbolises the close relationships between performers and providers, says that it is "in a unique position to link with schools and the community".

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