Following the devastation ofWorld War 2 the city of Coventry refused to deteriorate in the ruins butinstead decided to re-invent itself. With its car manufacturing industry expandingrapidly, its financial success ultimately led to the erection of the BelgradeTheatre in 1958. The Belgrade Theatre was the first theatre to have been constructedin over 20 years and for Coventry, it stood as a symbol of regeneration succeedingthe desolation that had consumed the city after the Second World War.
Britain’seducation system also underwent fundamental transformations during thisrevolutionary period. The Labour governments that led 1964 to 1970 agreed to demolishthe previous tripartite structure (secondary modern, secondary technical andgrammar) to make way for the new comprehensive educational system. Along withthe other earliest promoters for this new method, Coventry fortified itsidentity as a city prepared and excited to undergo major transformation. Nevertheless,the educational system was not alone in their change; the general outlooks onboth learning and schooling had also altered.Theatre in education mirrors aneducation that is centred around children and is experimental, its aim toinvolve the younger generation both with and through their humanity and notmerely preparing them for the work market. It was only during mid-twentiethcentury Britain that people began to challenge the previously reigning Victoriannotions of education leading to more socially productive and child concentratedconcepts being introduced.
In 1944 the Education Act stated that ‘It shall bethe duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as theirpowers extend, to continue towards the spiritual, mental and physicaldevelopments of the community.’1Despite this recognition, the formal acknowledgement that theatre may be a constructivelearning process did not materialise until after the Second World War. In conjunction with the innovative educatorswho had always relied on theatre to enrich learning practices were a smallgroup of theatre makers who were prepared to experiment with dramatic forms to advancechildren academically. Brian Way was the founder of Theatre centre in Londonand is also considered one of the most prominent practitioners involved in theintroduction of theatre into education. His organisation, established in 1953, establishedwork that challenged children’s artistic imagination through their involvement inthe storytelling process of theatre. Gordon Vallins, another major practitionerassociated with the establishment of theatre in education in Way’s theatre,refers to a script written by Way ‘In the script of Pinocchio there was adirection that said something like: Ask the children to go off and invent asong…Brian would invite the children to do all kinds of things after the play:ask them to write, to paint, make models, invent their own plays.
So he was usingthe play as a stimulus for even more creative work.’2He highlights this as a moment of revelation surrounding theatre in educationand refers to how a child’s development can be massively effected through dramaand the arts. Appreciation that theatre could positively affect the social and academicprogress of children unrelenting grew in popularity and climaxed in John Newsom’sreport ‘Half our Future’, which was written in 1963 and argued that ‘Drama canoffer something more significant than the daydream… By playing outpsychologically significant situations, they can work out their own personalproblems. Here is one way in which they can be helped to reconcile the realityof the world outside with their own private worlds… It is through creativearts, including the arts of language, that young people can be helped to cometo terms with themselves more surely than by any other route.’3This report was written two years before Brian Way founded the Belgrade theatrein education Company and signified official credit that theatre was not just culturalbut also played a crucial part in child concentrated education.
There is a large body of evidencegathered from studies that validates a correlation between theatreparticipation and academic success. Numerous academic professors have investigated the impact theatre has ona child’s development and learning with many of these academics leaning moretowards positive conclusions with their reports. As well as receiving higherstandardised exam scores compared to their peers who were not experienced inthe arts, the students who participate in the dramatics also frequentlyexperience enhanced reading comprehension.
Attendance is often massivelyimproved and students commonly remain more engaged in school than theirnon-theatrical equivalents. Establishments that incorporate arts-integrated programs into theirsyllabus, even in areas of low-income, report high educational attainment.Comparing the College Entrance Examination Board scores from 2001, 2002, 2004and 2005 and personal questionnaires addressing individual’s participation innumerous activities (counting theatre) the academic variances between theatreinvolved students and non-involved students is emphasised.
Students whoparticipated in theatrical performances scored an average of 65.5 marks higher onverbal modules and 35.5 marks higher in mathematic modules in the SATS exams.
In 2005, pupils who participated in drama performances scored higher than theaverage SAT score by 35 marks on verbal modules and 24 on the mathematics.Along with these statistics there have also been independent reports ofincreased concentration in classrooms alongside an upsurge in cognitiveconnection to other subjects. Many academics have suggested that not only doestheatre in education offers alternate means of assessment it also offersavenues of success for pupils who may otherwise not be successful and deliversa means for aesthetic growth. It is also recognised that theatre in educationcan support learning as it is noted that it offers an incentive for many studentsto remain in school. Research also reveals thatparticipation in the arts encourages dependable attendance in students andthere is a clear correlation between drop-out percentages and a learner’s levelof engrossment in the arts. Pupils deemed to be at high risk for leaving schoolmention drama studies as a colossal motivation for remaining in education.Results have demonstrated that students who remain involved in dramaticsubjects are, on average, three times more likely to be rewarded for excellentattendance than those who are not.
English and comprehension arealso immensely improved through theatre in education. From learning to read asan infant to studying the works of Shakespearian literature in depth, theatrecan play a substantial part in the continuous growth of a student’scomprehension abilities. Studies suggest that the physical presentation of apiece of text and other theatrical activities influence the students perceptionof the work performed and the experiences also aid them to acquire a betterunderstanding of other pieces and of language generally.
A sequence of reviewson theatre in relation to education exposed a constant casual connectionbetween performing works in the classroom and the progression of a wideselection of vocal skills, containing notable increases in recall andcomprehension of written material. It has been recognised that performances ofShakespearian literature help to better pupil’s understanding of othercomplicated subjects for example both mathematics and science. It is alsoreported that theatre within the education system helps to improve a child’smemory through the learning of lines and directions when on stage. This processof memorising also requires concentration and often build focus within thestudents in other areas such as school and sport. In addition to the constructionof social and communication skills, participation in theatre courses hasrevealed an overwhelming improvement in student’s self-esteem and confidenceconcerning their other studies. Secondary school students who are heavilyimmersed in theatre exhibit a higher self-concept than those who are notinvolved. Playwriting new work and theatrical demonstrations of existing piecescan often help to improve an individual’s self-esteem and communicationabilities in secondary schools. Through performance students can recognisetheir possible success and grow in confidence.
Since the employment of the NoChild Left Behind Act, there has been a widespread focus on the closing of the’achievement gap’ between students that vary in capabilities, socioeconomicranking and geographies amongst other influences that may impact a child’seducational achievement. Theatre, and other artistic subjects, confront thisproblem by catering to a variety of styles of education and aiding pupils whomight not otherwise take major concern in their schooling. In addition,research proposes that theatre courses have an exceptionally constructiveimpact on ‘at-risk’ pupils and children with learning difficulties.
A study published in 1999 quotes theatreperformances, curriculums and extracurricular activities as a cause for ‘gainsin reading proficiency, gains in self-concept and motivation, and higher levelsof empathy and tolerance towards others’ amongst the youth of low-income areas.Theatre endeavours can expand and help to preserve social and linguisticabilities of students with complications and remedial readers. Improvisationcan also contribute to the development of reading attainment and attitude inunderprivileged pupils.Projects fashioned within theBelgrade Theatre are renowned for their innovative revelations into the impactsof theatre within the education system.
The initial company formed in theBelgrade Theatre involved several practitioners including Gordon Vallins andeach of these participants would perform and also teach. This ultimately led tothe introduction of the term actor-teacher, a suitable reaction to the new collaborationbetween theatre and the education system. The first Belgrade’s Theatre inEducation programme started in 1965, when the company toured an infant levelpiece titled ‘The Balloon man and the Runaway Balloons’, a primary level piecenamed ‘The Secret of the Stone’ and also a secondary level piece titled ‘TheHigher Girders.’ Each piece aimed to investigate the theme of responsibility.
Vallinsoutlined the infant piece in his report. ‘This consists of two sections: (a) atwenty-minute lesson when two classes are taught simultaneously in separateclassrooms. This includes the telling of the story, the creation and recordingof three sorts of sounds (i) the blowing up of balloons (ii) the air being letout quickly and slowly and (iii) the sound of wind and waves: These sounds areused later after the break in (b) the thirty minute happening when the twoclasses come together in the hall and (i) They act being balloons (ii) theylearn the balloon-man’s song (iii) they act the story, being in turn balloons,a train, a fairground roundabout, children at the seaside and finally balloonsagain, when they rescue the balloon man after his boat has overturned in astorm at sea.’ 4This program positively worked on the children’s creativity helping them tochallenge themselves creatively and imaginatively. The experience questionedthe participants by confronting them with a dilemma they needed to resolve(asking them to save the balloon man) and thus enhanced their learning byimproving their ability to problem solve. Logical thinking and problem-solvingare both progressive outcomes of the theatre in education scheme as they helpchildren to understand what to do in problematic situations which can beapplied to realistic settings. This piece was not focused on the schooling offact but instead an interactive journey where the students would be faced withfun yet thought provoking predicaments. The company also toured theirpiece The Secret of the Stone which familiarised the children with an islandthat was inhabited by a huge range of wildlife who were also the ‘guardians ofa magic stone.
‘ The piece followed three travellers who, over the course of thepiece, hunt for the stone after realising its capability to heal. It involvedthe students by fabricating the different senses the travellers experienced onthe island as well as the participants attempting to discover the healing stonethemselves. This project assisted in the children’s learning by experimentingwith empathy. It is widely recognised that theatre in education aidsdevelopment through empathy as the children explore the characters feelings andultimately their deprivation when they do not find the stone.
By workingtogether the group also developed their communication skills and their socialabilities were also enhanced. This piece demonstrated how theatre can help achild develop in social situations by working on their ability to communicateand ultimately build in confidence. The final piece that toured in1965 was titled The High Girders and its form and structure contrasted theother two pieces that were catered for a younger audience. The group initially watcheda performance based on the construction and deconstruction of the Tay Bridge.They then, considering the theatre they had previously watched, discussed responsibilityand the connotations that surrounded it. Working in small groups they devisedseveral miniature scenes addressing the theme of responsibility.
In thefollow-up report Vallins referred to the ‘immediate response’5of the students as being ‘most encouraging’6and implied that although many of the teachers at the time of his revelationswere too uncertain to reproduce his work they did recognise the importance ofhis approach. This piece in particular confirmed how theatre in education canassist in an individual’s learning by demonstrating how theatre can help individualsto express both emotions and viewpoints. Within the first term the company performedin twenty one institutes and had affected around three thousand children. Itssuccess continued and the company renewed their piece ‘The Balloon man and the RunawayBalloons’ whilst also developing new pieces for their younger audiences. Thisrecycling of material eventually became a significant part of the Theatresproduction as they continued to tour old pieces and produced new works.A more recent theatre ineducation project is the Play in a Day project which was founded by Konflux in1999.
Contrasting Belgrade Theatres approach to theatre in education thisproject focussed more on the material discussed looking at relevant andsignificant topics in the children’s curriculum. By focusing on the relevanceof the topic discussed this group ensures that the pupils learn throughout theprocess by educating them on themes that are crucial to their academicdevelopment. This unique theatre in education group devised this concept toencourage development in children and utilises theatre as a way of learningcrucial skills in a more relaxed environment. With a large number of reviews andreports the group has been recognised and celebrated for its notable impact onchildren and their learning. The Play in a Day scheme allows children to workclosely with professional theatre makers to ultimately produce a miniature pieceof theatre. The program is not only designed for younger pupils but has alsobeen introduced to secondary schools to encourage the transition from childhoodto adulthood. Concerning themselves with topics found within the NationalCurriculum, the pieces are approximately fifteen minutes long and are performedas ensemble pieces that involve innovative theatrical techniques. The piecesare accessible to children from a variety of theatrical backgrounds and allowall participants to develop their personal skills and ultimately improve their confidenceand communication skills.
Usually consisting ofapproximately thirty five children the groups register and then spend a shortamount of time being introduced to exercises that are designed to build theirconfidence within the group. These exercises are both physical and verbal. Dueto the age of and the varying levels of ability within the participants the processit entirely vocal to avoid confusion or embarrassment with children who mayhave difficulties reading. By distributing all of the lines verbally and notproviding scripts for the children the project avoids exclusion and ensuresthat the process is beneficial for all the participants. This approach, inturn, challenges the children’s memory and encourages learning by stimulatingthis vital component of the education system. To conclude the day the childrenperform their short piece for the rest of the school which allows the pupils toshare their work. Many of the schools that have participated in the projecthave decided to invite parents to the performances too.This project supports learning andis a perfect example of how theatre in education encourages skills that can beapplied to several other situations a child can experience during development.
Thisproject supports the expression and communication of opinions and feelings, stressinghow communication is crucial as a child matures. It improves the child’sconfidence as an individual and as part of a group, and supports the importanceof teamwork and attentiveness to others. This project in particular supportslearning through its inclusion of relevant and important topic, broadening theparticipant’s perception by exploring the past and current issues throughtheatre. By performing the piece to an audience at the end of the process theproject is promoting self-appreciation and demonstrating the importance ofpride which is crucial as a child progresses. After its success in schools suchas St Patrick’s RC Primary School in Preston, who states that the project is ‘activelearning at its best,’7and Walter Halls Primary School in Nottingham who reported that their childrenwere ‘motivated and enthusiastic about their experience’8the project was extended to a week. The Play in a Week project provides evenmore support for the positive effects of theatre on education as it challengedthe children in written areas as well as verbal, testing their ability to communicatetheir thoughts into writing. During the week the participants had theopportunity to further explore character which helps with their understanding ofempathy which is extremely important during their growth. Theatre in education, alongside otherartistic courses, inspires learning and its influences on a child’s expressive,physical and communal development are vastly positive.
Children who areinvolved in theatrical programs embrace the variety of advantages they provideand many will continue to apply their developed skills throughout the entiretyof their lives. Theatre within the education system helps to mould creative, self-assuredand productive characters. Supported by an immense body of evidence it is clearthat theatre offers children an innovative, effective and excited way oflearning. 1 1944Education Act, Part II, 72 GordonVallins, personal interview, 7th September 20103 TheNewsom Report: Half our Future. 19634 GordonVallins, Interim Report, September 19655 GordonVallins, Interim Report, September 19656 GordonVallins, Interim Report, September 19657 KathGleave, casual interview 8 BronwenKwambe, casual interview