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Findings from theatre laboratories

Practical Examples of Theatrical Laboratories

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1.2. 2nd Case Methodology (Context, Characteristics, Research Methods and Design)
In a secondary school near Vicenza (I) there is an interesting experience of theatre laboratory in the style of OFF-Book. It is a trade school, with technical, economic, technological, industrial and commercial disciplines. It is unique in the territory and so it receives more than a thousand students of middle-low social background and of different ethnic origins.

There are boys and girls in need of professional skills, to get a job mostly in the territory firms and factories; sons of white and blue collars and sons of immigrants.

There are lots of familiar issues, such as separated parents, instability, hard unemployment. The composition is multi-faceted, mixing learning difficulties, ethnic groups, teenage issues.

The approach of the method, now proposed as OFF-Book Theatre Laboratories, proves to be successful; work based on encounters, sense of the team, empathy. So that everyone lets her/his specific characteristics come out, learns to increase them and grow up with.

The theatre laboratory, in the OFF-Book style, is very rare in Italy in a trade school, and it has been in this institute since 2012, thanks to the headmaster's and the teacher's enthusiasm. They acknowledge the educative value of the theatre lab, its importance in inclusion, aggregation, social and cultural development for the school and the territory.

At the beginning it was an experiment, but very soon the theatre project has become very successful in the school environment and in the community, with special feedback from The Giorgio Gaber Prize for new generations, from The School Theatre Festival in Bologna and from The Little Stage Contest in Venice. The financial contributions from the prizes guarantee the project to be renewed year by year.

The Laboratory experience we are talking about took place on a weekly basis from November 2015 to May 2016 (20 encounters). There were twelve voluntary participants, joining the lab for free, coming from different classes. Nine males and three females, from the age of 14 to 20. The 50% was made by Italian students, while the other half was made by Albanians, Russians, Indians, and Africans. The frequency was optimal, considering that some students work or have to help at home. The work took place at school, in the main hall. This room is furnished, has a sound system and it is possible to obscure it. The participants had to set up the space before starting working, by removing chairs and other objects and to clean it, and at the end of the work session they had to fix everything. The presence of two reference teachers was steady and precious.

The theme was 'Sea Voyage', focussing the work on the issues of migration and reception. By analysing a relevant subject of current events, one can easily find an occasion of working on oneself.

Since the beginning, the work develops as a group process, a teamwork. The first four meetings were focused on the knowledge of the others and of oneself. Physical exercises based on the group, on the space; moving the body all together, experiencing the contact, the voices, the rhythm, they are all techniques to let students understand the energy of the team, trust and self-confidence, the power of listening.

The aim, to be developed in the second part of the path, was deconstruction: to get free from judges and rules, to be ensured that mind and rationality don't always govern your actions and feelings. This was the most difficult objective to be reached, however exercises on listening and confidence are useful to be repeated in this part.

Quite at the half of the path, it was the right moment to introduce the theatre work on the chosen topic. The way to do this was asking the participants some questions which are supposed to be answered in different ways: physically, in writing, improvising, choosing an object, singing... working alone or in team.

Who are the strangers for me? When do I feel a stranger? When did I feel a stranger? Do people marginalise me? Why? Where is my safe haven? Which is my sea voyage?

These were the questions we worked on to build the final performance. Every scene was built together with the students, with their ideas, and their proposals. The growth and the rehearsals of the final performance enforced the team and gave them the satisfaction of doing something together with their own ideas and energies.
Online Resources
  • Schools website presentation of Theatre Laboratory performances.Description of the final performances coming from the secondary school theatre laboratories. On this website the performance coming from the OFF-BOOK Theatre Lab described in 4.1.2. will take place in 2018.
  • Piccoli Palcoscenici.Piccoli Palcoscenci is a theatre performance competition and it was born to enhance the training and theatrical research activity and brings together the essays produced in laboratory activities promoted by schools.

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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.