New Directions in Creative Drama: Blue Print or Band-Aid?

By McCaslin, Nellie | National Forum, Summer 1990 | Go to article overview

New Directions in Creative Drama: Blue Print or Band-Aid?


McCaslin, Nellie, National Forum


It should not be necessary for me to defend the value of theatre. For two thousand years, the theatre-in one form or another-has excited, educated, challenged, and nourished the human spirit. Unfortunately, in America, there has been a lingering suspicion of the performing arts and, therefore, a reluctance to include them in school curricula. By the eighties this attitude had largely disappeared, although their place in the curriculum was still tenuous, to be pared away when funds for education were in short supply. Despite an acknowledged belief in the importance of the arts in the education of our children, tight budgets have caused many schools to cut or even eliminate programs that were considered frills. Though drama/theatre is often the victim of such board action, paradoxically, we find some innovative programs flourishing throughout the country.

As I prepared a new, fifth edition of my college textbook, Creative Drama in the Classroom, I became aware of many changes in drama education and an expanded scope of activity that may indicate a significant trend for the future. Drama, which thirty-five years ago was a discrete area of the theatre arts, had since been broadening and incorporating other art forms with new foci and sponsorship. Most conspicuous among the changes was an emphasis on the utilitarian value of drama, involving educational and therapeutic uses. Reacting to this focus, some imaginative leaders and sponsors are devising successful, new ways of restoring the arts to a position of importance in their own right.

New Programs. Some programs are being sponsored by museums, libraries, community and recreation centers, civic theatres, and churches. As recreation and leisure time activities, drama classes and clubs have always enjoyed popularity. These recreational activities are important for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being that they are elected "for fun." Many leaders doing outstanding work in such programs today hold degrees in recreation and theatre; some volunteers are teachers, dancers, and writers who conduct workshops in the arts because they, also, enjoy them. We find colleges and universities around the country touring plays on a much larger scale than ever before, in order to provide wholesome entertainment for children and experience for students in theatre departments.

During the past two decades, a number of experimental and pilot projects have been initiated. Some of them have been funded by state arts' councils, some by private foundations, and some by interested organizations such as PTAs. All have a common goal: to increase exposure to the arts among children and the handicapped of different communities. Such projects have not been confined to any particular regions; they have been nationwide. Nor have they followed identical patterns.

An example of a particularly extensive project is the Arts in a General Education program, financed by the John D. Rockefeller III Fund, for the eight-thousand-pupil school system of University City, a suburb of Saint Louis. In this program, painting, music, photography, dance, poetry, drama, and other visual and performing arts were integrated into the curriculum from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. The major objective of the program was to give children experience in the arts and to increase their knowledge of the arts. In-school participation, field trips, and exhibitions were among the experiences offered.

An example of a smaller citywide experiment is Arts Partners in New York City. Carol Sterling, director, adds new companies and artists to this extensive program each year.

Although the arts in America are not yet included as a significant part of public education, such efforts as these represent positive steps in the direction of constructive change in the curriculum. Drama, a relative newcomer, is finding recognition as an art that contributes to the emotional, intellectual, and social development of the child, with values to be derived from active participation on all levels. …

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