Making a drama out of a classroom

9th June 1995 at 01:00
FIRST STEPS IN DRAMA. Age group: 5-7. BBC Radio 3FM, Mondays, 2.45-3.00pm. Teacher's notes, Pounds 2. BBC Education, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS

Drama needs to be built up to in a primary school, with each person feeling safe to act in front of others and in a group. Once this has happened improvisation and playmaking can connect with aspects of the curriculum from literature to personal and social education, and the polished performance can be used to develop confidence and accuracy.

First Steps in Drama begins some way along this road. The structure, a drama interspersed with exercises for pairs, groups or a whole class, would need to be adapted by a teacher. Some of the exercises are not well explained and you really need to puzzle over the teacher's book.

Basic techniques, like listening and imitating, are taken for granted. Yet basic theatre ideas, like mirroring and sequential movement, can take a long time to establish. It would be more useful to develop these basic modes, rather than going for more elaboration.

The units, "The Door Between Worlds", "Game" and "Big Bully", are divided into parts that are suggested to last 40 minutes.

The first, a fantasy about the boundary between the worlds of reality and imagination, begins with "mirrors" and as well as a face-painting exercise, it contains other useful ideas rowing a boat together and calling out questions, describing a bird they have "discovered" and much confusing elaboration.

In "Game", a child goes on a photographic safari, and here there is one really good idea the group has to loosen ropes around their hands and feet without being discovered and one really bad idea, in which at one point it is suggested that children in pairs "enact both sides of Lisa's mind". This would be taxing even for a skilled actor, it is not "first steps" stuff.

The final unit is on an immediately relevant subject bullying. The story is realistic, concerning a small boy who is being beaten up by another small boy, who in turn is being bullied at home. The curricular links, not as desperately far ranging as those in the jungle unit, are useful, particularly for English.

This unit is meant to culminate in an assembly about bullying. Without performance, a term's work of improvisation and enactment can become aimless. Yet in following these so-called first steps in drama, children will not really have learnt the performance skills to enable them to convey their emotions to others. Inner truth has to find external expression to become drama, otherwise it is just psychology.

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