What Is Drama? The question asked is ‘what is drama?’ Can we truly define it? Is there a ‘textbook’ definition of something that can be so personal? What is drama in relation to theatre? Why is drama so important? What are its uses, its aims? Some have said that drama develops self-esteem and encourages creativity and imagination. This is true, and will be demonstrated through examples from personal experiences. Usually the first thing that occurs in a drama class is that someone will ask for a definition of the word drama. Most of the class will look away, as if in deep thought praying that they are not called on, because they do not know the answer. At first glance, it seems a simple question, but as one begins to delve into the true nature of drama, the answer is not so cut and dry. For some, drama is a type of television show, such as a hospital or lawyer show.
For others, it is that section of the movie rental place where all ‘chick flicks’ are. For still others, drama means Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. For teachers, drama means all and none of these things. A clear definition is needed in order to lead the students in various activities, and towards various goals. What good is it to have the students explore within themselves if the teacher does not know what the aim or direction of the exploration is? Many teachers claim that their purpose of drama is to develop the child’s sense of self. This however is slightly vague.
Most people in education strive for this in one way or another. Bettering the child in body mind and spirit is a general goal for teachers, so this idea is not particular to drama. So then, what exactly is drama? There is one school of thought that defines it as an expressive process which is best understood through the idea of symbolization and its role in the discovery and communication of meaning(McGregor 24). This is an accurate definition, as it also goes on to explain that drama is ‘multi-faceted’ and that he child gains experience through voice, language, the body as prime means of expression; and the associated media of light, sound and space(McGregor 24). I have had many opportunities to participate in dramatic activities, and to express myself in different ways.
One such activity I engaged in was a dance drama while attending my final year of high school in Toledo. The song was entitled ‘Forever Young’ and it was about growing up and growing old without knowing one’s place in life, without ever being happy. The melody was almost regretful in tone, and the lyrics were pleading in nature. At this point in time, I was two months away from graduation, about to leave the place I had called home for five years. I was not yet ready to leave my youth and enter into the unknown world of university.
I was afraid, reluctant, and introspective, much like the protagonist of the song. Through dance, two other girls and I expressed our feelings on graduation. We used gentle movements; always aware of the softness of the angles our bodies were making. The arms were always curved, the head rolling into positions, as opposed to jerking. The lights were dimmed, with only a pale, white light focused on the center of the stage, giving it a bit of a glow.
Since we had three characters, we decided to act out three stages in life: the child, the teenager, and the adult. The child was dancing in the center of the stage, playing with the light, dancing with imaginary friends, happy, carefree, oblivious to its surroundings, and interested only in the moment. The teenager was standing just beyond the light of childhood, attempting to interact with the child, but never actually crossing the light. She would circle around it, look inward with longing, then turn with her back to the light, facing adulthood with fear and trepidation. She would take a few steps in one direction, then turn the other way, and take a few more steps, as if she were lost and confused, like in a maze. She could always see the child behind her, but not the adult in front of her.
The teenager’s movements were mostly turns, implying confusion, and constant changes of direction. The adult was seated on the edge of the stage, watching the action. She began as an observer, as if remembering her past, but as the dance continued, she would stand up, walk around a little, then sit back down again, making good use of levels, but never distracting from the main action. The adult was reminiscent; she watched and reacted to the other two as if reliving her time as a teenager and her apprehensions on growing up. We were expressing our fears and worries through body movements and non-verbal expressions.
Each of us had the chance to play all three roles, so we could experience three different emotions. Switching around like that allowed us to see the issue from different points of view. After this experience, we all felt a little more at ease with the transition we were about to make and ourselves. By expressing our fears, we had overcome them. When developing one’s self through drama, there are a number of things one can concentrate on. The first is the senses.
By using all of one’s senses, whether each by itself or all at once, one begins to explore themselves and one’s surroundings in greater detail than ever before. One becomes more aware of the physical world, i.e. the sound of the wind through the grass, the taste of a hand, and this leads to being more socially aware in the future. The senses are heightened, allowing the individual to be more perceptive around others and therefore have better relations in the adult world. Another aspect one can concentrate on is body movement and non-verbal communication.
We say so much about ourselves through body language. If we can learn to control each part of our bodies and the movements it may make, we can be more in control of our lives. How we use our bodies is what we are most judged on by others. If we are aware of what messages our bodies are sending we can manipulate these messages. By performing such activities as mime, tableaux, and mirror imaging we can learn to restrain any unnecessary movement and to make the most minuscule action mean so much.
Focus and concentration also plays a large part in drama. Each person involved in the group must not only focus on what he/she is doing but also on what the group as a whole is doing. It is only through focusing on the tack at hand that any dramatic activity may be completed. One must block out all outside stimuli and distraction and concentrate on what is required of them. The rhythmic skipping exercise required the class to skip in time to the music, to skip in time to each other and to follow the commands of the teacher at the same time. Personal feelings are not the only subject for drama. Drama can be used to introduce the student to a number of different topics, be it historical, political, scientific, or artistic.
A variety of situations can be concocted, allowing the child to explore his actual social relationships at the real level, and an unlimited number of hypothetical roles and attitudes at the symbolic level(McGregor 24). By experimenting with various roles in society, the child becomes better prepared to face these challenges in the real world. As well, by allowing him/herself to experience things as a different personality and by letting the imagination grow free, the teacher is building up the child’s confidence in him/herself and the validity of their own ideas and feelings. The child is now more perceptive to the needs and feelings of others, having portrayed many different types of people. This fits in nicely with Gavin Bolton’s definition of dramatic action as a tool for learning that rests in its capacity (1) to separate and objectify an event and (2) to break down established concepts and perceptions (142).
At the beginning of the course, we performed a few activities that illustrated this point. By using all of our senses, or deliberating inhibiting one of them, we as individuals were able to break down pre-established ideas about our environment and …