Why is Theatre Not Getting its Standing Ovation? : (Part Two) The Little People

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

Children learn through modelling and play.  Their free minds create and imagine all sorts of scenarios from building a fort in the lounge to acting out scenarios of life and death, of heroes and villains and great adventures in the backyard. Tea towels becoming turbans or bedding or tents or a full costumes, dependent on knot-tying skills.

It’s in our DNA to learn through creation and replication. 

Devised theatre is an extension of children at play. We’ve all heard the conversations; ‘Now say you’re the cop and I run out over there and you have to chase me.” 

Or, “I’ll get the ladder from behind Dad’s car and we’ll tie it to the trolley and you climb up it while I drive.” 

And on  it goes. Negotiation, collaboration, development of scenarios in a free and confident way. 

Oh the learning! Oh the theatre!

It makes good sense then to tap into and use that natural creativity to devise as part of the formal educational learning process. Instead of controlling, directing, assessing and grading the learning, young children in the school environment should be exposed to what they know. They know how to devise, how to develop ideas, how to explore new concepts and negotiate what will happen next based on the opinions, knowledge and skills of the other participants in the group. This will motivate them to learn to read, to record, to draw, to create when they have the need. All we need to do is to provide the resources and the guidance when they ask.

Having had the privilege of teaching 5-18 year olds across a 32 year career and I am convinced that unless there are serious problems with development we should not be assessing anything for the first few years of a child’s attendance at preschool and primary/elementary school. What’s the point? I’ve never heard of a university graduate being asked whether he could seriate, catch a ball, recognise errors in his writing when he was 7.  

It. Is. Simply. Pointless.

We need to find another way of tracking whether a teacher is effective or not as that is about the only value of assessing at this age; to see whether students are progressing. I taught a boy who spent the first 3 years of his school life sitting on the mat with his mouth half open completely zoned out. He went on to become a passionate medical professional.  I taught a girl who at 5 could run the class and could read at a reading age of a proficient 12 year old. By the time she was 15 she’d dropped out labelled a failure. The moral of the story: Let children learn the natural way. Replicate and build on what they naturally do. Devise, interact, improvise and reflect.

Theatre education and drama skills are an excellent way of facilitating, stimulating, motivating and developing the inquiring mind and THAT is what we want our kids to do. To be free and confident within an authentic learning process that develops their inquiring minds.

As a new teacher teaching 6-7 year olds I was inspired by the work of Dorothy Hethcote. 

Using her approach, my students learned to engage in ‘real life discovery’ within an imaginary situation.  It was quality authentic learning within a theatrical context. 

This worked right across the curriculum. If we were learning about a country, for example Japan we’d gather on the mat and talk about our flight to Japan. How far we’d be travelling, what it would be like when we got there, where we’d land etc. After we got there and learned more about the place we became Japanese citizens, we chose names and researched what our families were like, what our houses looked like etc. The students figured out what they wanted to find out. They bought along kimonos, paper lanterns they’d mad and Japanese food that they’d cooked at home. One student told us all about World War Two and another talked about the technological revolution and Japanese cars. Families were involved in the learning and students were motivated.

This worked well also for Maths. I remember a boy coming along dressed up as Elvis Presley and teaching us the 6x table to the tune of “Heartbreak Hotel.’ Everyone picked it up and easily.

So the message is to embrace and value theatre education for our youngest learners, ditch the over assessment and let these young minds develop a love for life long authentic learning.

Support this with as many performances as you can manage. They love it and this is what I’ll be discussing next time.

I’m off to build a fort and do some devising in my lounge…..look out for part 3...
Theatre gives life to life

Happy days

Theatre Genres Collaborate and Amalgamate!

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

My son contacted me last night and he was excited. He is now the owner of the (local park name) Pokemon gym. I don’t want to reveal the name of the park as I have no idea if it would be libelous or not. I could be inadvertently revealing information that may put his life at risk. This is serious stuff.

He’s been ‘kindly’ walking the dog more often but I suspect it is a guise so he can sneak up people’s driveways to chase Pokemon with the pretense that the dog has taken off. 

The very big news around this outbreak of Pokemon Go is that it is very well disguised as the new amalgamation of theatre genres.

Pokemon Go has people freely interacting with strangers and making up the conversations as they go. Of course this is known to we thespians as improvisation and interactive theatre with devising thrown in. A modern day reformation from the outside ranks!  Some may think that Theatre of the Absurd and a dash of Brecht are in the mix.

My brother-in-law in Perth posted a short video clip of him looking very perplexed at 10pm in the dark in a park in the freezing cold and the flickering lights behind him indicated the presence of not just his four young adult sons but hundreds of enthusiastic Pokemon hunters, interacting, devising and improvising.

It has all the action of classic theatre:
There’s the battles - Coriolanus revived but safer. 
“Not a sword in sight and the trusty mobile phone doth nay a sharp edge hath.”

There’s the searching and the longing and the failure and the rejection and the trying again. A sort of strange odyssey that includes little fictitious creatures that you think you might own but maybe you don’t, they’re in your reach until you’re battled out whilst you run about in a crazed frenzy dashing and darting getting nowhere. Unrequited love.

Shakespeare/ Greek mythology revised

Apparently there’s only two ‘gyms’ in our neighborhood but several thousand people looking for them. A tragedy in the making. So many will lose time and quality of life searching for something they can never have. Shakespeare would be so proud.

It does my soul good to see people so enthusiastic about theatre in this interestingly-confusing neo-everything form.

Good theatre people - let the bells toll and let the world know that they are reviving theatre. Once this craze dies down participants must be guided with haste to a trusty local theatre group near you or them or someone!

Love it. Theatre gives life to life

Happy days

Why is Theatre not getting its standing Ovation??!! (Part One)

Monica Moore

  • OnStage New Zealand Columnist

There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding, misconception, misinformation; a chunk of the world seems to have missed the point and the relevance of theatre.

They seem to be oblivious to just how important, essential and vital performing arts are.

I’m frustrated annoyed and rather put out by this. Are we becoming living examples of  ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’ where we are striving to express sense from the senselessness? It makes no sense to not revere, acknowledge or recognise the importance of performing arts as both a stand-alone entity and a means of expression and technique that is woven through our everyday lives.

I never met a person who has not benefited from involvement in performing arts, whether it be backstage, onstage, audience or techniques learned and applied to life.

Creators when they create learn and grow. Technical people develop skills and make everything better. Everyone learns about social engagement in one way or another and of course audiences observe, learn and critique.

The necessity of the theatrical experience, in all it’s form and genre, is just as vital today as it has been over the past 4000 years. We humans are often mystified with how and why we do what we do, we are lost in the complex world of what is right, wrong, satisfying and what gives us status and affirmation amongst the people we interact with.

Research clearly shows we need theatre to make meaning from our own lives, learn new communication skills and deal with complex emotions as a much as we need the entertainment, distraction and stress release. Theatre inspires us with social commentary, wit, tragedy and pure creativity. Theatre stimulates imagination to create and develop successful interactions with others. Positive and successful relationships are the key to a happy life. We need creativity, we need new ideas. I would dare to say that we have never been so in need.

Any career path that involves interaction with people will benefit from a person with a theatre education or experience.
The technological revolution has not been able to successfully replicate this crucial  form of expression and communication. It is indeed a tragedy that theatre is having to fight for it’s existence within communities and our education system.

Sadly the credibility of the performing arts is diminishing both within local community and education. 

Education MUST provide the theatre experience as it is essential to the holistic development of children and young adults. Society needs a platform to view and express human behaviour in a removed or safe way so that we can better negotiate the challenges and successes that come our way in real life. Performing arts should not need to fight for it’s place in education as valid and essential.

Whether you’re performing, observing, building skills or purely enjoying theatre, it is essential to the development, maintenance and enhancement of our society and I daresay will be forever more.

I shall be writing more about this with examples…..theatre gives life to life!

Happy days,