Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Drama Education in the Age of AIDS

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Drama Education in the Age of AIDS

Article excerpt


Theatre serves many purposes in society, not the least being Hamlet's injunction to hold a mirror up to life. In a more contemporary context we may list among its uses, apart from entertainment, its ability to educate, challenge, debate and reconcile. Workshop drama as a form of theatre-making is a very powerful yet accessible strategy which carries a strong transformative agenda. It could be used to good effect by researchers and educators seeking methods that elicit relevant, situated and culturally contextualised knowledge. In her study of school-based gender violence in Africa, Leach (2002:110) notes the lack of teacher preparation in appropriate methods for teaching and counselling in the field of HIV/AIDS, and suggests the use of drama among other methods for more impact. Although drama has been used to good effect in HIV/AIDS interventions, there has not been enough detail about the processes, a fact noted by Pillay (2010:88) in her book review of the work of Morrell et al.

The purpose of this study was to use the workshop theatre methodology to explore young people's attitudes to sexual relationships, while at the same time allowing the student researchers an opportunity to experience the processes of workshopping a play. The article is therefore written mainly as an account of the processes undertaken, while raising issues for critical reflection in terms of the implications of the findings and allowing for critique in terms of the methodology.


In their second year of study, Drama Education students in the Faculty of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) are immersed in a workshop theatre project as part of their study of South African theatre forms. The approach is experiential, so that the students learn the processes and techniques of workshopping a play as they go along. The choice of theme is prompted by the facilitator but negotiated with the students. The themes typically revolve around critical issues in contemporary South African society. As a teacher in the arts, part of my responsibility is to engender a consideration for social awareness and action. In a context of HIV/AIDS - KwaZulu-Natal being at the centre of the pandemic in South Africa - the words of Garoian (1997:20) are most pertinent: "If we acknowledge the necessity for compassionate and caring representations of illness and disease, then art education must consider how such representations are dealt with in the classroom".

When I indicated that the topic was to be social stigma associated with a positive HIV status, the students expressed some 'AIDS fatigue', stating that they were tired of hearing about this topic. Once we brainstormed specific angles to the topic, they were far more receptive. Once the students actually began their interviews, the focus moved away from stigma to beliefs and attitudes about HIV/AIDS and how these influence behaviour. Initially it was the knowledge that they would be devising and performing in their own play that excited their interest, but ultimately they came to see the significance of what they were investigating, and approached the performance with great commitment to the topic.

Theoretical framework

This study can best be described as an example of applied theatre/drama. Nicholson (2005:2) defines applied drama as those forms of dramatic activity that exist outside conventional mainstream theatre institutions and are intended to benefit individuals, communities and societies. Nicholson's seminal text on applied drama, Applied drama: The gift of theatre, explores a range of performance processes and key practices to provide a critical analysis of what constitutes applied drama and its ideological content. This work forms the theoretical underpinning for this study.

Applied drama has a strong developmental agenda, can take on many forms and is found in a wide range of applications - corporate, community and educational. Most widespread of these in the developmental context is the use of Augusto Boal's Theatre of the oppressed (1979) techniques, which are highly participatory and have a clear emancipatory agenda. …

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