Drama and Storytelling in Higher Education- Commentary

“So this is the first of three sessions.
Each group have three sessions each and this part of the session introduces the context,
which is about storytelling and the relationship between children’s literature and drama and
how those two spheres, if you like, cross over. I carry out what I call a risk assessment,
which is basically to ascertain how fearful students are in this initial stage.
So at this point, then I ask the students to stack their chairs, move their bags, take
off coats and stand in a circle, which can sometimes take a little while. And as you
can see their body language is at this point often quite inhibited. I am passing around
a pair of tiny little red shoes. There is some Chinese music playing. There is some
Chinese artefacts placed around the room and there is a piece of Chinese clothing, which
we will come to shortly, on the floor. And I explain to them that they will be taking
part in this story by literally stepping forward from the circle and taking on roles from the
story. And the only person that will actually wear a costume will be the person who is playing
the protagonist, whose name is Joa Chao, or ‘the Little Princess’. This technique is called
the ‘story whoosh’. It is very common in drama education circles as a way of engaging in
active storytelling. Usually, with children, you’ve got loads of volunteers. But often
working with undergraduates you find the opposite is the case, that they are hesitant about
initially taking part and therefore you have to use a bit of brute force to get them up
and doing. What I have asked them to do is to retell
the story in 10 words or phrases. So they are summarising the plot in groups. We are
then using a much more performative technique. I am also trying to introduce them to this
idea of eastern methods of performance as opposed to western traditions of performance,
which are fundamentally quite different. So what I ask them to do is to create for each
of the words or phrases that they have used to create a gesture.
The next stage of the lesson introduces a method, a pedagogical method, if you like,
called ‘mantel of the expert’. I mention it very briefly. The actual story book says
that these evil wrong-doers tell the people that the emperor is dead, so I’ve admitted
that bit and I just let them assume that he is been taken away and locked up and kidnapped.
But I go back to this part of the story to look at perhaps this part of the story for
a different perspective. And what I do is a give the students roles to play, each one
of the four groups represents one of the four sons of the emperor and each of the four sons
is being given a section of China to rule over on behave of the emperor. And so in this
section we use the concept of ‘mantel of the expert’. The students are asked to look
at some images and use this as a very very quick research exercise into what they think
might be the issues that are happening in their particular region or part of the continent.
So the students get a short amount of time to look at these images and to come up with
an argument that they will present to the emperor as to why whatever rumours have been
flying around are in fact, merely that, just rumours.
They are then asked to meet the emperor. So I use a costume signifier which is a hat with
a false plat and I have got some Chinese money. The students then put forward their argument
using the images to support as evidence. It’s a literary device. It is something that children
will be taught at some point but often it is taught through merely through writing as
opposed to through debate, discussion and through the oral tradition of arguing the
kind of forensic way of looking at arguments. So, the session ends as the emperor thanks
them for their contribution and suggests that they all have a celebration, and then I leave
the role of the emperor and go back into role as the facilitator. What I often find really
interesting at this stage is that the students demeanour is changed and their body language
is a illustrative of this if nothing else in that they just appear more confident.”

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