I love drama. Some would say that is because I am a ham and crave attention. Well, all teachers have to have some sense of timing and teachable moment or they cannot be effective. But limelight? Actually I am painfully shy at heart and spent maybe the first 20 years as a teacher with painful sore throats that would often lead to strep for the first two months of every school year in absolute dread of having to stand in front of people and let them see how little I know. I have learned how to manage that stress, but limelight I leave to others. They are plenty of prima dons and donnas in this profession. Some of them are actually quite talented. Some of them simply have an inflated sense of self. Unfortunately, Drama Festival can bring out the worst in my colleagues as some of them cannot resist the spell of the spotlight. That is not what I love.
What I love about drama is how it brings a class together. Drama is more effective at doing this than almost anything else you can name. You can teach your class about working cooperatively together until you are blue in the face. You can design modules, and construct space, invent clever strategies, and provide endless examples. You can have literature circles and reading groups, you can plan seminars and workshops, but if your students have come from a restrictive and repressive education system – as Asians have by and large – then it will take months of patience and effort to bring them to the place where they begin to work together as a team. And even at that it may still not happen. Or you can let your class do drama and bring all that and much more about in a few short weeks. And have fun doing it!
Drama has the power to take us out of ourselves and teach us in a very practical and unforgiving way the absolute necessity of working together as a group. You don’t show up on time? Everyone on your team has to wait until you get there. You forget your lines? Everyone in that scene suffers from your failure. You have to work together on where you stand in relation to everyone else on the stage. You have to work together to move the props about and organize your costumes around a theme or time period. You have to work together on script and accent, on gesture and response. Everything everyone else does affects you, and everything you do affects everyone else.
As for the performance itself? That is just the icing on the cake. It is fun to see and especially fun to witness those who are shy like me come out of their shells and lose themselves in their characters. There were many notable performances that day in other classes. There were individuals who clearly have greasepaint in their veins, whose performances who outstanding. There were those who commanded the audience’s attention and compelled their admiration and respect. I commend them for their performances and the characters they created. But I was trying to do something else. I was trying to create a caring community through drama. And that is something both much harder to do, and more enduring.
I wanted my students to enjoy what others in their class were doing as they brought their characters to life. I wanted them to come up with their own suggestions on character and staging and share them with others. I wanted them to work together on their plan and then plan for little details. I wanted them to feel the rush of anxiety and anticipation and the absolute thrill of experiencing all of what you have planned take place in front of a live audience who laughs and applauds with approval at what you have created for their enjoyment. I love seeing the transformation in my students as they move from a sense of individuality to a sense of the unity of the group and the importance of depending on others for your own individual success. If you are thoughtful, if you are careful to allow the students to take responsibility for what they are doing, then what you build through drama is a community, instead of a class.
That is what I love about drama.