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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

1.2. From Theatre Games...
Aristotle calls “theatre” the act of purging emotional tension or “Catharsis”. We all need cathartic elements to overcome the flow of emotions. The way we are moved by imagined painful stories is similar to the man’s need of imagining drama to fight injustice in our life, to build self confidence, to annihilate bad feelings of exclusion or complexes. From the theatre activities/games to theatre laboratories there’s an evolvement step: they have in common many activities, but it’s the involvement, the dedication of students, the insurance of the space where they perform, the simplification of the procedure and the improvement of the results that make Theatre laboratories be preferred in the secondary school.

Theatre laboratories appeared in 1960s under the guidance of Jerzy Grotowski, whose ideas of stage movement gathering intellectual, visual and emotional techniques together had been envisaged also by Konstantin Stanislavski at the beginning of the 20th century.

Teachers who teach communication through theatre games activate the development of social problem solving skills, of confidence, of posture and they foster emotional intelligence. Through training in theatre games, “students favour choice over impulse and solution over anger.”(The Centre for Applied Psychology, 1996)

These techniques tackle students’ inhibiting thoughts, level their interior conflicts and help them get rid of their phobias, fears and complexes. (I.Muñoz-S.Díez-JJ Izquierdo, Talleres de teatro en educación secundaria.una experiencia lúdica, (page 27).

The schools that use social skills training through theatre classes reported less disruptive behaviour and a lower number of early school leavers.

Theatre offers students the chance to foment verbal and non verbal communication easiness and strategies in specific situations and contexts. Theatre is often associated with social cognition. Theatre can provide an incentive process for learners by living through or experiencing an event; through theatre, students explore knowledge as: facts, abstract concept and social experiments linked together.

There are also obvious the following main advantages in theatre games:
  • theatre games suspend judgement
  • theatre games acknowledge individual contribution
  • theatre games encourage a high level of inclusion to the students who reflect societal difference and calm down the conflict in the classroom.

Social life skills learnt in theatre games are transferable life skills. They can be used later in life to tackle conflict and face problems. They can be used to speak in public. They can be used to handle situations that couldn’t have been handled without the theatre exercises.

At the end of the 20th century (1998) Newman named different stages of lesson or theatre games in English, according to their purpose:
  • Icebreakers
  • Warming up
  • De-inhibitors
  • Initiative games
  • Trust building activities
  • Team building
  • Problem solving activities

Newman highlighted the role of theatre games as simulators of different aspects of real life; he used theatre games in teaching English, but stated that such techniques could be used by teachers of other subjects as well, for the benefit of their students. Theatre games correlate the intellectual, physical and mental aspects of education.

Along the years, more and more teachers use theatre games based on Viola Spolin and other authors’ work to encourage social interaction and creative stimulation. During their classes, improvement comes from the safe atmosphere the teacher provides, from the appropriateness of the exercises proposed and is validated by students’ feedback. The teacher’s participation in the games brings a positive change in the students’ perception, the teacher becoming their peer. Thus encouraged, the students develop social and language skills and show a better ability to focus. Students stop skipping classes and the number of those who leave school early diminishes.

In the last decades, pedagogy has approached a holistic view of the learner as a human being and the dramatic expression is the perfect tool to support this approach. In 2014 Gaetano Oliva wrote about the tendency of “Education to theatricality” as an innovative pedagogy having the following purposes:
  • To contribute to the psycho-physic well-being of each learner;
  • To give everybody the chance to reveal his/her own diversity and specificity;
  • To stimulate skills and develop awareness about personal acts.

As gestures and words, verbal and non-verbal manifestations are equally important for human communication, to dramatize a situation means to play it, decode it and complete the interpretation with the body language. We meet the others through handshakes, hugs, looks or calling them by names; that is why gestures are as important as language. If education trains language, it should train gestures too.

The human movement to express the overflow of vitality and feelings finds correspondent in the 20th century innovative theatre. And which better period in one’s life to use it for the person-social actor’s blossom than the secondary school or teenage? It is that exact period when the human characters take shape and are easily influenced towards becoming introverted or extraverted adults. The methods used in theatre should be used in schools too.
Online Resources

These web sites present the beginning of experiential education and mainly the theatre games benefits for students’ inclusion in school and society.

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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.