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Teachers’ Guidelines

Homepage > Teachers’ Guidelines > Theatre as Experiential Learning Tool

The role of theatre as a site for learning in a community context and how it can provide informal learning opportunities for young people experiencing social difficulty

Theatre as Experiential Learning Tool:
Step by Step Process to Implement Theatrical Laboratories in Classroom

Table of Content

1.1 The History of Theatre in Learning Education
Before theatre was pervasively acknowledged as an educational tool of social and achievement consequences, there was the idea of experiential education: an umbrella that made the first step towards shaping the personality of the student through experience.

Experiential education means to add reflexion, critical analysis and experience to classical education, shaping it holistically from an education-centred type to a student-centred-who-will-become-an-adult one. Experiential education enables the student to actively pose questions, investigate, solve problems, assume responsibility, and build the meaning of his /her society and world.

The characteristics stated by Chapman, McPhee (p.243) of experiential learning methods are:
  • Absence of judgement to create a safe space for students’ process of self discovery as the learner is a self-teacher too;
  • The experiential process ensures a balance between experiential learning and the supporting theory and the real world;
  • Students are able to reflect on their own learning, “bringing theory to real life”;
  • Students are engaged in the experiential learning to a point where learning strikes a central cord in them;
  • Human mind is re-evaluating its value along the process of acquiring knowledge through experience.

Theatre has been demonstrated as one of the best ways to acquire knowledge and, at the same time, to tackle the problems our society faces by developing students’ personality, contributing in this way to a decrease in the number of drop-outs or absentees in schools. Learning is more effective when it occurs “outside their own perceived comfort zones”. Thus, theatre has proven to be one of the most effective methods for experiential learning. The need to act is mingling the man’s anthropological message with the histrionic side the human being was born with. It is a manifestation of the universal ego.

Theatre is an intrinsic part of our life as all manifestations encompass drama: games among children, oral exams, job interviews, wedding rituals etc. Since ancient times, ritual movements –and then movements on stage- have been telling stories. Plato thought that children from three years old up to adolescence had to participate in artistic activities such as public choir and dances. Then, during the Renaissance, the humanist Juan Luis Vives developed the theatrical dialogue for learning Latin. Starting with Commedia dell’Arte in Italy and the physical gags called “lazzi” performed by actors, theatre mocks the weaknesses of the people and the injustice of their society. Therefore, theatre represents a strong social statement.

In the 19th century, the French François Delsarte started connecting gesture, body language and oration in the attempt to decode them. Then Konstantin Stanislavski stressed the necessity of the balance that should be maintained between the psychic, mental and physical status of the student, on stage or elsewhere. When Stanislavski and Meyerhold opened the first experiment of a theatre laboratory, they stated the plan and the dream they had in mind to create a “special institution” which Meyerhold named “theatrical studio”: “a laboratory for the experiments of more or less mature actors.” (Stanislavski, My life in Art, 1926)

Theatre and movements on stage were linked to education by Gordon Craig (1872-1966) who noticed the confluence of them and the advantages that theatre movement would bring to education. Further on, Grotowski (1933-1999) proposed a long set of complex physical warming up exercises in order to discover primitive human reaction in actors. First the director, later on the teacher, had the role to disinhibit the actor of all his/her complexes, shyness, feelings of exclusion. At that point, in the mid 1960s, education turned for all these to theatre, first in Britain and then pervasively worldwide. It is of utmost importance that theatre generally becomes a possible subject in schools, as it brings the entire school community together and fosters mankind’s best social virtues e.g.: cooperation and responsibility. It trains the students to develop themselves and perks up their diction and articulation to further express their opinion in society. Thus, theatre in school helps students to become confident learners and represents a catalyst to shape and boost their intellectual and emotional personality. A new chapter opens in history: the student-centred education. The present education must have a double aim: to be productive and formative, which is to include social knowledge and inter human skills, to embrace creativity in order to acquire freedom and psychological security (Carl Rogers, Freedom to learn). Drama in school education is meant to make students overcome their shyness and develop their histrionic skills in order to make them adjust easier to the social life and the labour market later on in life.
Online Resources
Other Sources
  • Grotowski, Jerzy, Towards a Poor Theatre, Methuen Drama, A&C Black Publishers London 1991

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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.