Dramatic way to learn about difference

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Green Girl says: "I don't want to be tolerated; I want to be accepted." In her new land, some people are afraid of her; others are suspicious; a few are full of hate. She looks different from them. Sir Richard, representing authority and ignorance, wants to chop off her head.

This land is Britain, populated by a cast of 11 S1 pupils from Ross High in Tranent, East Lothian.

With funding from the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (pound;1,000) and the Scottish Executive's Qualify of Life Fund (Pounds 2,000), East Lothian Council's arts service is leading a drama project to explore racial equality issues with young people.

Eleven pupils, aged 11 and 12, will perform a drama in mid-March for 250 P7 children from Ross High's eight feeder primaries, Tranent, Macmerry, St Martin's RC, Elphinstone, Ormiston, Saltoun, Pencaitland and Humbie.

The pupils performing in The Green Children have been taking part in weekly workshops under the guidance of drama teacher Shonagh Davidson.

The piece is adapted from an English folk tale dating from the 12th century. It centres on the lives of a brother and sister who find themselves in a strange land, exploring the challenges and attitudes they face.

"It uses children as a metaphor for difference," explains Mrs Davidson.

"The green children are different. They have green masks.

"I hope the story and the theatricality of it will help them to empathise with the characters. East Lothian's pretty much a monoculture, so this is one way of addressing that. It's a powerful story."

Mrs Davidson did not set out with a script. Through 11 weekly workshops, the children improvised with their own bits of dialogue, after which she wrote up the play. "The power of that is the children claim the words," she says. "It is written by the cast and directed by me."

The stage set is a forest. The green children, Aisha and Jakob, are met with a range of reactions from the local children. "To begin with, the children are not welcoming," explains Mrs Davidson. "Their response to something so different is fear and aggression and suspicion."

Then their initial wariness subsides and they welcome the green children into their community.

However, Aisha and Jakob encounter greater hostility when they venture into the village marketplace. "They are excluded and ridiculed by the villagers because they are so different," says Mrs Davidson.

The villagers taunt them and Sir Richard, who possesses power, wealth and prestige, wants them beheaded. "He represents all of the ignorance around," she says.

However, his daughter, the princess, challenges her father's racist views.

"There's resonance about refugees, asylum seekers, immigration and bullying. We're looking at a spectrum of reactions," says Mrs Davidson.

While the local children try to comfort the green children, for Aisha, it is not so easy to brush it off. "Do they think what happened today is easy to forget - the staring, the pointing, the comments?" she asks. "I'll never forget that for as long as I live."

The project is about citizenship, Mrs Davidson says. "It's made the children think about attitudes they have been brought up with and it's provided a forum for discussion.

"Drama is powerful because we can explore those feelings. We're celebrating diversity because she (Aisha) gives so much to this village. She looks back on her life as an old woman. It's not an easy journey and she's lost her brother, who doesn't survive the attitudes."

She believes the piece will have a resonance with its audience. "Going into S1 is a challenging transition time. The play reinforces the importance of friendship," Mrs Davidson says.

"What we're trying to do is understand other cultures and break down prejudice. The play will stimulate further discussion in the classroom. It may make them stop and think for just a second longer.

"It's not easy and it's not happy ever after but it has to be hopeful."

Miranda Fettes

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