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  • Master" versus "Servant":Contradictions in Drama and Theatre Education
  • Shifra Schonmann (bio)

Mr Jourdain: You mean to say that when I say "Nicole, fetch me my slippers" or "Give me my night-cap" that's prose?

Philosopher: Certainly, sir.

Mr Jourdain: Well, my goodness! Here I've been talking prose for the last forty years and never known it, and mighty grateful I am to you for telling me!

—Molière, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme1

My basic claim is that our young field—drama and theatre education—feels old. Are we being stifled by applied drama and theatre, so that it has put real obstacles in the way of broadening the horizons of the field? I know that by asking this question I risk setting myself up as a living target for all those who maintain that applied theatre is the "hot" and the appropriate concept in the field. For more than twenty-five years now, we have been working with our students in teacher education departments and with children in schools in the manner of applied drama and theatre, but we have named it differently. It is as if we had been speaking the language of applied drama and theatre for twenty-five years—and we did not know that this was the case. (It reminds me of Moliere's Monsieur Jourdain who suddenly discovers that he has been speaking prose for the past forty years.) I would like to make it very clear from the outset that my claim is not against applied drama and theatre; it is a claim for another proportion (balance) between the instrumental function and the artistic-aesthetic function of our drama and theatre work in education.

Is this a new claim? Not at all. But in the midst of our intensive endeavors in the field, it strikes me again and again that we have been running after our own tails, doing almost the same things over the past twenty-five [End Page 31] years. I have tried to understand why we are wandering around, surrounded by the same basic circles and experiencing a feeling of déjà-vu. What, really, is our problem? As a result of asking myself these questions, I began to analyze programs of the major conferences of the last ten years in drama and theatre education: Exeter (Researching Drama and Theatre in Education), AATE (American Alliance for Theatre and Education), IDEA (International Drama/Theatre and Education Association), and IDIERI (International Drama in Education Research Institute). These are considered to be the main international professional gatherings in the field (most of which I have attended). I have been looking into the headings that express the topics that were discussed. My data show that the majority of the topics were concerned with the by-products that drama and theatre can produce but not with the artistic and/or the aesthetic dimensions of the field. Sometimes I wonder if we fail to see the wood for the trees.

In the Dictionary of Developmental Drama, written by Richard Courtney, an attempt was made to clarify the terms of drama used in a variety of practical fields.2 In this dictionary, we cannot find the applied theatre entry or process drama entry, but we can find entries such as developmental drama, drama in education, drama therapy, dramatic activity, educational drama, educational theatre, forum theatre, and many others. The terminology used among drama workers, leaders, and researchers is not precise. When drama educators and researchers meet, we engage in extensive discussion, often exchanging experiences and successful strategies. Quite some time can pass before we realize that our concepts of drama education differ considerably. These concepts range from completely spontaneous activities, such as improvisational exercises, to very carefully planned work, such as staging written scripts. Courtney's dictionary is the only one that I know that tries to define the basic concepts in our field: It is necessary but not adequate or up to date.

In the "Drama Way" Project, a comprehensive work by Jouni Piekkari et al., coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland, I found a good attempt to set up a "mini" dictionary.3 The "Drama Way" Project identified a number of...


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