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  • Drama in Aesthetic Education:An Invitation to Imagine the World as if It Could Be Otherwise
  • Florence Samson (bio)

Maxine Greene, philosopher-in-residence for the Lincoln Center Institute (LCI), suggests that through aesthetic education "new connections are made in experience: new patterns are formed, new vistas are opened. Persons see differently, resonate differently." As Rilke wrote in one of his poems, and as quoted by Greene, "they are enabled to pay heed when a work of art tells them, 'You must change your life.'"1 Greene interprets Rilke's words to mean that "a work [of art], when fully perceived and carefully attended to, makes a demand upon beholders—a demand that they change, look with new eyes, hear with new ears, become something they have not been before."2 Greene believes that "the perceiving, the noticing [about which Rilke spoke] are enhanced," for in the process of "[o]pening ourselves as perceivers to the work, entering into it kinaesthetically, we free ourselves to grasp it in its vital fullness and complexity."3

This life change, to which Rilke refers, occurs as we take into our own being the experiences of others and realize that not everyone sees the world as we do. As we look critically at ourselves and our complicity in situations that position people as "other," we are moved to imagine that the world could be otherwise.

Curriculum, Change, and Aesthetic Education

Aesthetic education, an inquiry-driven engagement with a work of art, can be a catalyst to bringing about change. The aesthetic education experience consists of a number of components. LCI agrees upon a repertoire of "works of art" deemed likely to fulfill the requirements of engagement and inquiry. These may include, but are not limited to, music, drama, and opera performances, and mask, photo, and art exhibits. For each work of art, the LCI [End Page 70] researchers and other staff prepare a resource binder, entitled Windows on the Work. The teacher educator has several meetings with the teaching artist assigned to that work to develop the questions that will power the inquiry process, determine the structure and activities of the pre- and sometimes post-performance classes, and guide the students in their engagement with the work of art.

I have included an aesthetic education experience program each term in my graduate and undergraduate elementary and early childhood education courses. My course outlines describe this component and the related student assignments. For the fall 2004 course, I chose Ping Chong's Secret History: Journeys Abroad, Journeys Within.4 This drama documentary, written and directed by Ping Chong and Leyla Mordirzadeh in collaboration with Sara Zatz, was directly related to one of my course goals—teaching for equity and social justice. This involves providing teachers with opportunities to "engage in productive dialogues about both inequities and possibilities for social reconstruction in the communities within which they and their students are developing."5

Ping Chong & Company was founded thirty years ago "to create innovative works of theatre and art that explore the intersection of race, history, culture, and technology in the modern world."6

Ping Chong, Insider/Outsider, and His Approach to Theatre

Canadian-born and New York-reared Chong—theatre director, choreographer, and video and installation artist—is "fascinated and disturbed by the position of the outsider, the person made to feel 'other' in a society" and "probe[s] the drama of those pushed from one culture to another."7 He has done extensive research on both immigrants and refugees and recognizes that there is a psychological difference in the trauma experienced by members of both groups in the transition from one culture to the other.

Chong's unique "talk, reveal, and seek to understand" approach to theatre "moves us toward unification, toward diminishing the barriers between peoples, and thus toward embracing all that is good in civilization."8 His work is grounded in his experience of sharing a common ethnicity and language with his community in Chinatown and occupying the position of "other" as the only Chinese student in his high school. Because of his experience of being "other," Chong has "a real kind of empathy and connection" with his projects.9 He considers...