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Findings from theatre laboratories

Practical Examples of Theatrical Laboratories

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1.1 1st Case Methodology (Context, Characteristics, Research Methods and Design)
A Secondary School (Italian name: Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado “Meda-Ferrarin” dell’Istituto Comprensivo “Madre Teresa di Calcutta”) located geographically in the south-eastern area of Milan suburbs (economic and social characteristics can be found at Online Resources for Paragraph 4.1.1) has decided to start a series of projects aimed at solving the school leaving issues and to encourage inclusion processes within the school environment.

The economic and social contradictions of the geographical area in which the project fits, cohabit even within the school, as well as the phenomena of deviance and difficulty of inclusion. In addition, due to students’ age, they also reflect typical preadolescence difficulties. A physiological identity crisis, which often results in provocative behavioural attitudes is typical of preadolescence phase.
In this context, and within the project, the theatrical laboratories (of the typology specified in OFF-Book project) are inserted. The school centrally enhances the Theatre Lab with afternoon courses over a prolonged time led by internal professors. The teacher in charge to lead the Theatre Lab was Fiorella Merlin. All the internal professors involved preliminarily have made long training and coaching courses to let them lead theatre laboratory.
These educational projects were funded 75% by the Municipality of Milan 4, by the Teatro Stabile di Grosseto through the "Giorgio Gaber Prize for New Generations" and, in the current school year, by the European Structural Funds.

This current school year the school promotes a Theatre Lab with the topic “mind confusion: the difficulty of accepting yourself and others”. Students named the project "[email protected]".
The adhesion to the project happened spontaneously without any selection.
The laboratory, for third-year classes, has been open to all registered students over a prolonged period of time and at a normal time and it is considered an "extension of the educational offer".
The course involved 22 students, including 13 females and 9 males aged 13 or so.
The contest was complex: some students with Special Educational Needs, students with behaviour problems (disciplinary sanctions for serious behaviour and inability to control negative emotions), students with home difficulties such as families with parents under house arrest; students with learning disorders, or severe emotional disorders; youngsters of very recent immigration and very complex clinical health cases.
The route started on 27th September 2017 and ended on 4th May 2018.
The cadence of the meetings was weekly for two hours each
The attendance of the students at lessons was 95%.
The physical space of the project is represented by a wide corridor, especially obscured, without any furniture, artificial light and no stage. The music is reproduced with a simple amplification system. A room called "theatre hall" is also used, where material of all kinds is found, such as fabrics, old objects, masks, sound objects of different kinds, umbrellas, chairs of different shapes and sizes and much more.

The first phase of the Lab consisted in knowing the group of participants and verifying that their membership was free and not forced.
Students expected a theatre centred on the recitation of a pre-established script with main and secondary characters and most of them were afraid of not being able to do so.
Also, for this reason, the first purpose is to lower their anxieties of performance and make the Theatre be perceived as a language at their service, a tool that responds to their need for growth and self-knowledge.
It deals with work on the person and not on the characters.
The Theatre Lab is always an opportunity to investigate adolescent daily with particular attention to emotional and social discomfort. This is how stage products are created, and in this way, students give voice to their subjects such as growth, the relationship with one's body, relationships with parents, the social network and much more.
This is the only way in which a personal story becomes a common story.
The living common space is a free space in which everyone can give her or his contribution. The students’ thoughts become emotional images, free actions, metaphors, poems.
This is the dramaturgic basis, containing images and the groups’ thoughts.
To stimulate images and thoughts the trainer/teacher asks the students to define:
  • "A good boy "
  • "A bad boy"

Or he asks the student to describe himself or herself in some situations as:
  • "I'm envious when ..."
  • "I am loved when ..."
  • "I am disappointed when ..."
  • "I wish I could tell you ..."
  • "I say no to ...."

The final "text" is the complex result of the answers.
The trainer/teacher, always in contact with the students, can read carefully through a very truthful vision of adolescent nodes, which they change every year by assuming different nuances.
Once the common issue is focused on and some answers found, all the messages assume the structure of a real theatrical performance.
Online Resources
  • School contestDescription of the social and economic contest in which the Theatre Lab took place

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.