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Drama Layers: Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology

This is how Dorothy Heathcote defined the three layers of drama work – the anthropological, the sociological, and the psychological.

Now, there are three layers to work in drama; and indeed, to work in anything - but because drama’s a social art, dealing with the affairs of mankind, we've got three levels we can function at. The teacher makes the choice. Broadly speaking, if people are not used to drama, and working in systems of drama, where they have to collaborate with each other, share opinion, not be afraid to express it, speak up in class, because these are all behaviours this sort of work is going to demand … the best way to work - the simplest for the class - is to take the material at anthropological level. That is: … Why does mankind … have to do this? ... What is it about this, that all people seem to need?

The second level is when people are solving something as a social group.

The third level, which is more complex and demands much more from individuals, and is often used higher up the school (with your sixth form and so on), is when the social event changes people as individuals. I’ll give you an example, which I'm just going to invent, I haven't thought of it in advance. I've got a bracelet on. If the children were working at the anthropological level, it might be to do with the rights of people to be decorated: why some can be elevated above others. why some may wear precious objects, what is it that makes precious objects affect the community. 

If it's at the sociology level, it might well be to do with: “Who's got the right in our family to inherit my mother’s bangle? And what are we all going to do about it?”


If it's at the psychological level, it might be: “the relationship between me and my sister, because I say my mother promised me this, and all my life I’ve expected, and now you think you should have it. Our lives will be irrevocably changed, because this morning after the funeral, Claire saw her sister wearing her mother's best bracelet.”

Now that is quite a complex business. Any object, you can work on, and think like this.

This [the anthropological] is to do with how it is to be human.

This [the sociological] is to do with how humans get on with one another and solve problems that matter to everybody.


And this [the psychological] is to do with: “Every act I undertake affects me, and those immediately in close bonding with me.”

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And any, any literature can be read at this level. And it's up to the teacher to say: “I’ll set this at that level [the anthropological]” - because that protects the children from having to be good at acting.

What they're good at is thinking out things for what it's like to be human. “Well, this is what ought to happen. This is what we ought to do. This is how honours should be given. This is what this is about.” It's the big social hierarchy situations. And this one [the sociological] is getting on in large groups. And this one [the psychological] is learning to grow up, and get more mature, and handle yourself.

Source: “Rolling Role and the National Curriculum” video series (1993), Tape 1 (University of Newcastle)

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