NZ National Drama Conference – Dunedin

Last week I attended the NZ National Drama Conference in Dunedin where 85 drama teachers from across New Zealand met to take part in professional and best practice sharing.

The theme of this years workshop was ‘identity’, ‘legacies’ and ‘heritage’.  “We will explore ways in which to share our journeys and culture through collaborative practice including site specific drama.”

The workshops/seminars I took part in were:

  • Creative response-abilityteaching, directing and practising creativity in a contemporary world: Dr Vanessa Byrnes (director of Creative Industries Unitec)
  • Ways of Knowing – demonstrating how drama can engage students in kinaesthetic ways of knowing; linking drama, movement, art and literacy: Chris Horne
  • Kinetic Dramaturgy –  exploring how a performer’s physical position on stage, or movement through space, conveys meaning to an audience that reveals specific subtextual/nonverbal information: Chris Jannides (PHD) (senior tutor, Toi Whakaari)
  • The plays the thingcreative ways for engaging students with Shakespeare: Hilari Anderson
  • Creating Intimacy on stage and in the rehearsal room: Miranda Harcourt ONZM (Acting coach and tutor at Rata studios)

I was fortunate enough that my school sent me on this workshop as part of my PD. This allowed me to connect with other teachers from around NZ where we shared best practice around harbouring real creativity in the classroom and beyond.

I learnt huge amounts from each of the workshops and shared these thoughts with my HOD who was with me on the course and then relayed this back to the other two teachers in our department. They were particularly interested in specific exercises we had been given in the workshops which could be directly transferred into teaching and rehearsals.

However the main thing both my HOD and I gained from the experience was a bigger question around how to foster creative collaboration in our students. This led to talks in our department meetings about creative collaboration and how we are exercising it.

Below I will list all of the points I gained from the workshops, along with ideas I have about incorporating them into my learning home.

Creative response-ability

“Human being not doing” – remembering to engage with all of my learners as their ‘being’ not just what they produce.

Supporting learner to be ‘T’ people – knowing a little about a lot and a lot about a little. This is something I spoke about in our team meeting when we have talked about cross – curricular projects before. There are some departments in our school who are already collaborating on one set text which students explore in multiple subjects. We have spoken about the possibility of engaging this way in the future. However I feel this needs to be thought about more as this level of intensive, long term collaboration can leave students with huge amounts of depth but not breadth. I was interested to meet a teacher at this conference whose school engages in cross -curricular team teaching. The students, instead of choosing subjects choose topics e.g. ‘relationships’ and then,will explore this through the lens of two traditional subjects like drama and technology for example. This is a new method of working which is producing high results for the school so I will be interested in following their progress.

Labelling drama as ‘sharp skills’ not ‘soft’ – enabling students to sharpen their awareness of self through the creative industries. Supporting them to question ‘what’s within you and how does this help creativity?’.

Necessary contrasts – more of this in another blog.

The conceptual age – more of this in another blog.

Ways of knowing

Looking at ways to explore process drama using storybooks.

If you are going to create fiction, you need facts. Don’t just ask students ‘what do you see’ in stimuli but ‘what do you notice/hear/feel/smell/sense’. Helping the students unpack the image will make them more invested in the drama from the outset.

Create interesting dialogue by creating a ‘dialogue starfish’. Ask students in groups to lie on the floor and create a two person dialogue. The narrative will be much fresher, more absurd and lyrical, more poetic and less clichéd.

Create a safe but uncomfortable environment where you don’t allow students not to engage. Make sure this is supportive by telling students ‘if you dot listen, that’s your problem, if you don’t understand, that’s mine.’

Drama is ‘slow magic’ or ‘serious fun’ – language to engage students in a safe but challenging environment.

Kinetic Dramaturgy

this workshop gave me a physical language for a lot of work I already do with students. There are hand gestures to explain and reinforce levels, proxemics, body language and angle. This allows for easy and visual side coaching – the compass of the limbs. There is also an acronym to help students memorise the language

  • Intimacy
  • Power and status
  • Interest
  • Comfort

This workshop also gave me a lot of practical exercises to try with  my students to help them become used to using ‘IPIC’ purposefully in their drama.

Creating Intimacy

Miranda spoke about the work she did with the actors on the film ‘Lion’. It was inspirational to hear someone who had worked on such a successful project but more inspirational to see the examples of things she did could be translated easily to the classroom.

I was particularly interested in the following tools she uses to improve ‘intimacy’ or ‘closeness’ amongst her teenage actors. I think that building relationships in drama is the most important key factor for success an have been working on these in my classrooms but would like to do some more purposefully after this weekend.

  • Using a hongi to create physical and spiritual closeness.
  • Using Dr Arthur Aruns 36 questions between two actors/students to create quick and deep bonds. I have started using these ‘deep speak’ questions which I have learnt about through youth counselling/coaching in class already and they have been really good for creating trust.
  • Encouraging students to do activities together which bond them…. treasure hunts/games/sleep overs etc.
  • Doing something dangerous to feel connected… blindfolded trust games, walking on a swing bridge.
  • ‘Root attachment objects’ – asking students to go out and buy souvenirs of an excursion, put them in a  glass jar and keep them visible in rehearsals, use in the performance to ‘root’ the relationships built.
  • Learning Rudolf Steiners physical alphabet and devising names as a warm up to release young people from the constraints of their bodies.

I gained an enormous amount from this workshop but the conclusion that I am working with at the moment, on a larger scale, is creating safe and challenging spaces for my learners to experiment and trust.

My HOD and I have subsequently discussed the amount of credits our NCEA groups are expected to take in a year as we both feel that leaving time to develop these creative spaces is vital yet difficult with the time constraints of assessment. The question is whether attainment and achievement would ultimately be higher if there were less opportunities for credits but more purposeful creation of safe, challenging creative ‘homes’ for learning.

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