II.1.1 - What is drama?

Western European drama has its roots in Ancient Greece. Athens was at its centre, where Greek drama became part of the festival in honour of the god of wine, fertility and religious ecstasy, Dionysus. By attending the theatre as a community of people, Athenians were able to see their own place in society as their situations were dramatized. This enabled them to question, challenge, celebrate, debate and explore the problems of their community freely and ultimately learn something; gain new knowledge and understanding. The origins of Western European theatre were driven by society’s need to learn about themselves and their place in the world. Drama and theatre served the people. But let’s focus specifically on drama and education now.

Drama in Education (DiE, also referred to as Creative Drama or Process Drama), focuses on both the form and content of drama. Participants learn about issues and concepts raised in the drama and through drama. Importantly, DiE relies on engaging participants in fiction they are creating themselves – which offers an educational, rather than a therapeutic perspective, on issues they may be experiencing. Drama creates a space for participants to understand the world in which they live. 

While the starting point of a drama lesson may be a topic from the curriculum, the emphasis is on examining the human aspects, providing an ‘other’ to help understand ourselves. This helps young people see complex connections, the unfolding of events, and the impact social forces have on real people. 

By using drama in this way – understanding, exploring and identifying with the ‘other’ – participants can create meaning. They learn to understand and challenge the culture in which they operate and consider alternatives. Drama in the classroom not only provides a stage to act in different ways but is also preparation for acting differently in the real world.

Central to the points made above are the notions of democracy and democratic meaning-making. Both of these, among others, are strongly featured findings in the Drama Improves Lisbon Competences  (Cziboly, 2010) research, a large scale international quantitative research project that studied the impact of drama on young people with data collected in 12 countries from approximately 5000 children and young people. This research found that the impact of including educational drama and theatre in school curricula is that young people are more likely to be “citizens…[that are] sympathetic towards cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue” and that they; 

1. are significantly more tolerant towards both minorities and foreigners, 

2. are more active citizens, 

3. show more interest in voting at any level, 

4. show more interest in participating in public issues, 

5. are more empathic: they have concern for others, 

6. are more able to change their perspective. 

Thus, the importance of drama and the reason to use it is clearly beneficial to create more accepting, empathic and more democratic spaces for young people. As a result of the dramatic process, participants can be enabled to explore, learn, test and challenge pre-existing knowledge and arguably arrive at ‘innerstandings’ (Heathcote, 1981).

While creating performances is still present in schools, its educational aims have widened to creating community; to creating space for participants to tell their stories; to develop their communication or language skills; or to understand theatre forms and plays better. However, Drama in Education is not so widespread in its use in different countries. There is a strong tradition of using some elements of it in various language teaching methodologies but using more complex forms of it is not so common.