Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Drama, Role Theory, and Youth: Implications for Teacher Education

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Drama, Role Theory, and Youth: Implications for Teacher Education

Article excerpt

If "to be or not to be" is the question, then "to be and not to be"

--to me themost succinct conception of performance--might be the answer. (Fabian 179)

A popular theatre project I facilitated in 2000 with a group of rural Alberta high school students for my doctoral research led me to re-think the label "at-risk" to include the perspectives of youth. The youth with whom I worked, the majority of whom were of Aboriginal descent, talked about choosing to engage in risky activities--the kinds of activities that commonly deemed them "at-risk"--for their own enjoyment, "for the rush," and/or in resistance to the expectations of the school and society. I used theoretical ideas taken from Schechner's performance theory, Prentki and Selman's discussion on popular theatre, Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, and Jacob Moreno's first volume on psychodrama to make a case for drama education as a site for youth to think beyond roles prescribed for them--such as those defined by the label "at-risk"(Conrad, "Rethinking").

A more recent popular theatre-based study I conducted with a group of incarcerated boys at an Alberta young offender facility in 2003 challenged me to think further about the value of role theory in drama education (Conrad and Campbell). This paper examines the music/performances of Eminem to discuss the way that role theory, as developed by Jacob Moreno through his work in psychodrama, is reflected in contemporary poststructuralist conceptions of identity. Role theory has exciting implications for teacher education--both for teachers doing drama with youth and for student teachers engaged in developing their own roles as teachers.

Since his first hit album in 1999, Eminem's music--his obscene lyrics, offensive subject matter (including reference to abuse of women, rape, drugs, violence, and homophobia), and his vitriolic style--has stirred much controversy, but also won him much acclaim. Eminem's work is recognized as compelling by both his supporters and his critics.

The incarcerated boys in my study identified Eminem as one of their favourite artists--citing his music as relevant to their life experiences. Specifically a song entitled "Guilty Conscience," they said, spoke to their current life circumstances. The music video of "Guilty Conscience" depicts individuals in ethical dilemmas--just about to commit a crime. The video uses filmic special effects to freeze the action and insert devil (played by Eminem) and angel (played by his musical mentor Dr. Dre) characters debating the consequences of the crime. The angel/devil technique, used to explore a moment of decision-making, is one that I use often in my issues-based drama education work with youth. That Eminem used this same performative strategy encouraged a closer look. I have since come to appreciate Eminem's music for what it has to say, how he says it, and for its appeal to youth.

True to the genre of Rap music, known for telling stories that reflect "the truth about people's lives" (Sciabarra, par.9)--much of Eminem's work is autobiographical in nature. In relation to the youth with whom I was working, Eminem's portrayal of growing up a typical "at-risk" youth was resonant. His song entitled "My Name Is" talks about growing up poor in a single parent family, about his father having abandoned them, about his feelings of being betrayed by his father and by hismother too for lying to him about her drug use, about failing and "acting out "at school, about a suicide attempt at age twelve, about drinking and driving, and so on. Similarly Eminem's movie 8 Mile, based on his life story and rise to fame, paints a bleak picture of a risky lifestyle involving drug use and violence in his struggles with his music. His song "Brain Damage" talks about being bullied at school. Other songs of his allude to violent relationships with his ex-wife and his mother. The deeply disturbing content and crude language portray the realities of life and the destructive feelings they engender, without glorifying or romanticizing them. …

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