Reva Klein reports on how East meets West in a new drama programme. The irony of teachers from other countries coming to learn drama in education here, from whence it sprang, cannot be lost on many these days. Celebrated from the outside, many British drama teachers feel unsupported, undervalued and marginalised in their own schools. But in a unique exchange programme run from the National Theatre, eastern Europeans are sharing their expertise and perspectives with their British counterparts, who are learning as much as the former Soviet bloc teachers are.
Branching Out, organised by Chrissie Tiller and Suzy Graham-Adriani of the National's education department, brought 30 educationists, theatre practitioners, educational psychologists and others from Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria to this country in May. After a week spent training and attending seminars at the National, they spent two weeks job-shadowing and sharing methodologies with drama teachers in schools and colleges around Britain, as well as visiting regional theatres. Its next phase, during the October half-term, will have the British teachers visiting schools abroad.
The programme, funded by the PHARE Democracy Fund of the European Commission, is a two-way process. Bulgarian youth theatre director Tzvetomir Borissov speaks for the others when he says: "We're here because this is where drama teaching is. But this is an exchange of ideas for both us and our British colleagues. We get lots of ideas from each other."
Drama in education is seen by the eastern Europeans as a way of dealing with a range of issues that their countries face, as emerging democracies in a region of burgeoning nationalism. As another Bulgarian, Petya Rousseva, puts it, "Drama is an excellent way of solving conflicts and creating a team spirit. We can teach people to be more tolerant by showing different points of view. This kind of work is vital for young people." Doina Lupu, a theatre manager from Romania, agrees. "I saw theatre in education here a few years ago and was crazy for it. It is something we need in our country."
The exchange grew out of a pilot programme of workshops in drama in education techniques, funded by the Soros Foundation, that Tiller and Graham-Adriani ran with 28 Lithuanian teachers. Says Chrissie of that experience: "What we found was a thirst for knowledge, both for drama as a subject and as a teaching method. All these countries have very different and very exciting theatre traditions, so the simplest warm-up game can take on a whole new theatricality of its own."
She was impressed with the dynamism and optimism of teachers there which, she hopes, will energise the British. "We took our basic skills to Lithuania and found that we got ten million ideas and skills back. With drama educators in this country more and more isolated and feeling that our rich drama traditions are drifting away, we hope that they will build up relationships with the eastern Europeans, that they will build up support networks for each other. "
While visiting this country, some of the eastern Europeans got a good taste of its cultural variety. A drama teacher from a small town in Hungary was matched with a teacher from a Catholic high school in Yorkshire, a Bulgarian youth theatre director was partnered with a drama field officer in Belfast and others went to rural Wales and Cornwall.
To find out more about Branching Out, ring the National Theatre education department on 0171 928 2033.