Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Collective in the Classroom: Creating Theatre in Secondary School Collaboration Projects

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Collective in the Classroom: Creating Theatre in Secondary School Collaboration Projects

Article excerpt

Canadian Beginnings: Collective Creation as Documentary Theatre

Collective creation has enjoyed an important position in the Canadian theatre tradition. Alan Filewod identifies Paul Thompson, then artistic director of Theatre Passe Muraille, as the first director to use this term in 1972 to describe his process for involving actors in the creation of plays. Thompson and his company went beyond the then popular documentary style as they attempted to characterize Canada's history and culture through original theatre pieces based on source material they explored through the lens of their own experiences (Filewod 22).

According to Filewod, the most famous of Thompson's collectively created plays was The Farm Show, partly because it was an excellent piece of theatre and partly because it "became the model for a form of community documentary theatre based on the actors' personal responses to source material"(24).During the summer of 1972, members of the theatre company lived in the rural community of Clinton, Ontario and interviewed its residents while they attempted to capture theatrically the essence of farm life. Thompson engaged his company in a variety of exercises that were designed to create focussed theatrical performance pieces from the plethora of personal perceptions and experiences the actors brought to the collective process. Filewod describes the company's "collectively created populist documentary form" that was characterized by theatricality rather than realism. Monologue and metaphor were some of the representational conventions employed by the company to realize their artistic vision (49). Thompson's approach to collective playmaking was (and continues to be) echoed in collaborative theatre work in Britain, the USA, Canada, and other countries around the world.

Youth Theatre and the Collective Process

Errol Bray, an Australian youth theatre director, elaborates a detailed approach identified as "playbuilding" that he developed in his work with young people. He also suggests that a "thematic" or episodic structure serves the collective process most effectively (7). Bray elaborates on the conventions of theatre available to collaborators: "[it] can include dramatic scenes, songs, dances, poems, monologues, mime, and, in fact, almost any element of dramatic presentation produced by the group" (6).

British theatre artists Alison Oddey and Gil Lamden use the term "devising" to document similar collaborative play development practices that they have employed with professional and youth theatre projects. Theatre activists around the world (including Augusto Boal, Philip Taylor, and Eugene Van Erven) use such collaborative approaches to promote social justice, political activism, and community building. In 2005, the American journal, Theatre Topics, devoted an entire issue to concerns and questions surrounding devising or the collective process of creating plays. forum to explore the benefits and the problems encountered in devising plays with adults and youth.

Secondary-school theatre and drama educators began looking at the educational benefits of collaborative play creation over twenty years ago. Charles Lundy and David Booth identify forms of student-created plays according to the source of dramatic material and the level of responsibility students have for creating the work. They suggest the term "anthology" to describe a process whereby students select a theme, collect material (prose, script, poetry) that reflects that theme, and organize the material (with transitions) into a cohesive whole (Lundy and Booth 95).Alberta teachers Glenys Berry and Joanne Reinbold wrote about their experiences using play-building strategies with school students in the mid-1980s and adapted the term "collective creation" to the school context.

American educators Jeannette Horn and the research team of Ellyn Berk and Melody James demonstrated that extensive benefits result when students work collaboratively to create theatre. …

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