The Best of Both Worlds

On the first day of the IDEA Paris Conference last summer, as I sat in the Theatre de l’Odéon waiting for the morning’s keynote, a young Irish doctoral candidate who was sitting next to me asked me if I’d be willing to complete a short survey for her thesis. I agreed, and she began asking me questions about Applied Theatre. I admitted right away that I had never heard the term before, and she said she would explain it to me after the questionnaire (so as to not skew the data). She then explained briefly what Applied Theatre was (my response: “Isn’t theatre inherently Applied?”) and then the morning began. Given how long and pedantic the keynote was, I had plenty of time to think about this “new” discipline, and how long I had been out of the world of drama pedagogy, and how i should probably find out what Applied Theatre was.

Serendipitously, I had just been given access to the library system at Birmingham, so I did a quick search to find something about Applied Theatre. I didn’t want to walk into my first day of school not knowing something that was apparently common knowledge. I found an article by John O’Toole entitled Writing Everyday Theatre: applied theatre or just TIE rides again? in Research in Drama Education. I read the first page or so, and as happens when one is on vacation in Europe, it didn’t get re-opened for a while.

Nearly a year has passed since then, and the article has been glaring at me from my Google Drive, reminding me that I haven’t read it yet. It has recently gained a bit more traction, as John O’Toole has come into my life again, this time because of his book with Bruce Burton called Cooling Conflict about using peer teaching in Drama. I haven’t cracked that one yet (summer reading, of course) but I have finally sat down to read his article.

Articles of this ilk are what made me want to go into Drama in Education in the first place. It outlines his work with Everyday Theatre, an “Applied Theatre” company in New Zealand, and discusses whether applied theatre and Theatre-in-Education are really all that different.

I was immediately reminded of an article that I read for my Directed Studies project in the final year of my Drama in Education BA. I was researching how to use Drama in a Social Studies context, and came across an article by Sharon Grady entitled Remember the Alamo? A Theatre-in-Education Partnership between a University and its community in the AATE’s Stage of the Art journal. It detailed a TIE project at the University of Texas – Austin that used TIE as a means to explore the Alamo and its impact on Texas and Mexico today. I remember being awes-struck, that something like this could exist. I had spent 3 years learning Drama in Education techniques, and TIE seemed like an amazing way to include students in Drama in a way that was more relevant to a high school student than what I felt Drama in Education could.

Then, real life happened – a year and a half of working for a national non-profit youth organisation, and then a year and a half teaching Drama and English in a remote Northern Ontario native community by the skin of my teeth. The ideals of university, where you’re shiny and new and keen and everything seems possible. After barely keeping my nose above water in Moosonee and moving south to Aurora, I found I fell into the same curricular patterns that most of us do – there is relatively little variation about what a Drama student learns in any given York Region school, which has its plusses and its minuses.

After reading O’Toole’s article, I am once again inspired to take a good, hard look at my own Drama program, and to see what I can do to make it a bit more involved, more authentic. How can I take these TIE approaches and make them work with a one-man show (me)? How can I perhaps use a senior class to create a performance that accomplishes the same goal?

I definitely have something to think about this summer.

…and people say Teachers don’t work during the summer.


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