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"Now" Time

Dorothy Heathcote distinguished between “over there” time, and the “now” time of drama. It’s the difference between talking about something as if it is happening “over there” – “they would do this or that” – and talking about it as if it is happening now.

There is a world of difference between someone in a class saying, “Well, they would take all their belongings with them”, and saying, “Let's pack up and leave”. That is the switch I work for, to enable a dramatic exploration of ideas to take place. (1)

Getting rid of the “dummy run” in teaching

Dorothy saw that school work can feel like a “dummy run.” She observed:

When you think of a school, it's been created quite specifically - at its worst to keep kids out of the way; at its best, to prepare them for the place in society, so they become fully enfranchised.

But much of the nature of the work we have to do in classrooms feels like a dummy run, because we can't create the need of it by society. It's very difficult to do that. And I think this is one of the reasons why people get turned off education, unless they have, you know, that wonderful gift that makes them stay interested in everything that happens to them. …


Now, on the face of it, you’ve got a rather odd paradox in drama; because it looks like drama is entirely artificial, and that the whole thing would be a dummy run. You know, we're only pretending, aren't we? … And we use words like “pretend” and “play,” and in our culture, it does suggest it's ephemeral. And there's no real work / life purpose for it. …

Elements of "Now" time: "Things have to be made to matter"

So, I broke all this down, and thought: now, what would it have to be, then, if I didn't feel it was a dummy run? And so it's it seems to me, one of the important aspects of it not being a dummy run is: it matters now. We feel like it's urgent now. Not: “Oh well, you know, we’ll get on with it,” sort of thing. …

The teacher takes it upon themselves, it's their responsibility in Rolling Role [and other drama] work, to make the “now” be part of the frame in which people operate. “Now, we are dealing with a library, I am a librarian.” I don't, maybe, change my language very much; but from that point of view, I make now. … It is odd that, within the drama mode, if you can get the contract [with the group], that: “Would you agree that we are, for the moment, behaving with the responsibilities of” - in this case, librarians … they will.

But it isn't won just because they've said yes. It's re-won by you, and lured on by you. So we go back to this mouth of yours [the teacher], and this stance, you know [in role as, say, a librarian], and the forging of language.


I see language as sort of solid shapes that come out on breath. And they have their own form and style, that suit, in sometimes a stereotyped way: the way that sort of person, with that sort of responsibility, might talk. And I actually see them [words] coming out [of the mouth], you know - cubist letters, you know, with three dimensions.

"The task must feel important and worthwhile"

The second thing is: whatever task we ask of them, must feel as if it's important, which means somehow we’ve to empower them to be important, and of course worthwhile; because one of the things we're going to try to do all the time is set in standard. So we want it worthwhile to be done well, not just worthwhile to be done. But frequently, the context is what makes it feel worthwhile. If we want to put this statue up to help people all realise this dog was very famous round here - I'm thinking of [Greyfriars] Bobby of Edinburgh - it is worthwhile to design it well, so that (a), it looks like Bobby of Edinburgh, and (b), people really can take a drink from the fountain. So it is worthwhile to do it right for Bobby of Edinburgh, so that everybody’ll understand.

"There needs to be valued and perceivable outcomes"

There also has to be a valued and perceivable outcome. I see, so often what I call “sitting about, talking drama”, where there isn't an outcome. So they get up, and they go, and there isn't an outcome. If it didn't register much, well, they just say, “well, so what?” Because drama’s a bit ephemeral in that sense, isn't it - if you're in the expressive mode. I see so many classes – well, I used to – where people are sitting discussing, but nobody's keeping any records. And when people go out, they don't know where their discussions moved, from here to there. ... And so I'm always looking for: “Well, okay, what is the outcome that I build into this task?”

Which means I get a bit schizophrenic, I not only say: “What must I prepare?” How must I engage them with it, what task will they do then, and what will doing the task do to them? And you know, I'm holding that in my mind, and it has to be like that, because that's the system. What will doing the task do to them? There's your curriculum, there's the learning, there’s the outcome.

"People must enjoy power to influence and operate in the circumstances"

They must also be placed in a position where they can enjoy the power to influence. They can influence the event, they can put their oar in... and they must have the power to operate. So you can't give them poor tools for what it is you want.

She used the example of a coat placed on a chair to represent somebody – as an example of a tool. The children had the power to influence: they had the power to invent a person (through sharing imaginary “memories” about them).


"Tasks must offer feedback possibilities"


And of course, the tasks we create for people to do in our classroom, most offer feedback possibilities. Now frequently, the feedback as people go up the school - the feedback possibilities tend to be just in the mind. Or they’re lonely feedback possibilities. “I can now see I’ve filled this page with writing” is a perfectly good feedback possibility. But sometimes we want feedback possibilities that crystallise something about what they have just done. ... So all the time I'm saying: “Well, how can the engagement with this task constantly alter the engagement as they get the sort of feedback?”


The feedback I would give on memories about the coat that we’ve previously mentioned, would be: “I can” - the coat can't talk. My feedback might be, “Do you realise you’ve just invented four really interesting things about that person?” Now that's me, making sure there’s feedback. Otherwise, we're just going to get a list of things shouted. Now, that was a classification. But it might be just: “When I listened to you people, I really get the feeling that this person is well known.” Now that is not the same kind of feedback possibilities as the one I mentioned about – “Do realise you just said four quite different things about the person’s life?”

"Situation must feel reasonable and genuine – truthful not true."


The second thing is, whatever situation we put people in, it must feel reasonable to be doing it, and it must feel genuinely truthful to be doing it in this way. ...

She used the example of making a stained glass window using cut-out pieces of paper. This would be reasonable if it was being done as a design in preparation for making an actual stained glass window.

"People must be protected from feeling stared at"


A most important one, of course, is: all the time, while you're creating your “now” time, it's much more threatening than when teachers operate on “over there” time.


You see, if people are sitting down folded up like praying mantises [with their arms crossed], and you say, “I've just been thinking: supposing we were going to climb Everest?” People can have quite an interesting discussion, but they don't feel very disturbed, and really they don't feel very stared at, unless the teachers is saying, “Come on, Johnson, what are you thinking?” - suddenly the person feels stared at. But when you come into “now” time, people can very quickly feel stared at. If I'm saying: “Now will you remember -”, they can feel very threatened. So the coat, for them to stare at, is the least I can give them, at the moment... Protecting people from feeling stared at, then, is essential the very instant you start “now” ...

"The self-spectator must become alert – and be registered"

And of course, this brings us to the part which is about why we can say it feeds the curriculum. We’re awakening, through the tasks we ask of people to do, the self-spectator that makes them realise what is going on here. Now the actor naturally creates the self-spectator, because the self-spectator for the actor is checking up: “Is this signing what my intention is? Will this offer the audience the kinds of information, and the modes of the vehicle of information, that I require to share in this particular circumstance?” So they will monitor their gesture for period, their voice, and so on. And they do this self-monitoring.


When little children play, and choose to be this, that and the other, the self-spectator’s there, because they like being important, and they know they are being now very important.

When we look at the self-spectator in terms of learning, the sort of feedback we're offering is, (a) the expressive mode they may be using is very reasonable: “I could tell you're a neighbour, I’ll tell you how I knew. Did you notice how we all folded our arms? I mean, I did.” ... The whole class would probably fold their arms, you know, because they're doing a sort of contemplative invention.

Now often I feed the self-spectator, by: “Did you just realise what you’ve just done? I could tell - Did you notice how we knew she was -?” And that needs feeding in from the very beginning. Sometimes, if they’re doing a task that might be to do with writing, but within the context of a dramatic situation, like making out job cards for a, you know, for a job centre, the self-spectator is alerted by the way the manager might say: “Do you know, I think we've got these forms right, don't you? I think we're improving. We’ll have to consider something about display”, and so on. There is the self-spectator.

Are you beginning to see: the rules are actually the same, they just apply in hundreds and hundreds of different circumstances? That the things that make “now” time, and importance, are really - you could sum it all up with this. Now, it may be I've forgotten some. Or I don't know them. I don't think I've forgotten any, but you might be able to think of things I don't know that you've realised about it. So I’ve put on my last card a question mark, because this is how teachers grow, you see. When you think about the list I've thrown at you, you're in a better position to realise what I've not thought of, that I haven't considered. And this is why, I feel, we function as artists, when we consider teaching in this way. Because we don't repeat. We follow a design, perhaps, but the design will never be identical, because the circumstances are never the same. (2)

Moving into "now" time

The teacher can switch between talking in “now” time and “over there” time. As she explained on one occasion (at a teacher training event):

... you have to pay a great deal of attention, then, to the clarity of the shift. It can be very subtle, but it must be very clear; and it’s to do with the way energy is used. People shouldn't have to spend time thinking, “Is she or isn't she, now [speaking in "now" time]?” They should immediately be galvanised, even though they may not move, or show any different. But mind-wise, they are galvanised into “now” time, and then “over there” time.

The teacher appears to “drift” into “now” time

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I use the word drift because that's how it appears often to the children, the class you’re working with - though there's no drift for you, there's a straight cut into it.


It occurs through “the smallest shift” in tone, “choice of vocabulary, pitch, public or private voice, or, you know, there are all sorts of things".


The talk out of "now" time, is always related to the work you are doing in the drama context.

When you go back to what I'm calling “over there” time … you are actually promising what you'll be doing in role [in the drama]. So you're never in what I'd call the normal, teacher-abstract mode of, “Now it is important to learn about the Great Lakes, because-”. You’re never there, once you’ve ventured into role. You are aware that: “I’ve come out of role now, to do something else that will help when I'm back in role.” (3)

Sources: (1) “Signs (and Portents?)”, SYCPT Journal 9 (April 1982); (2) “Rolling Role and the National Curriculum” video series (1993), Tape 9 (University of Newcastle);  (3) Video Series D: “Teacher intervention and strategies in the four levels of drama progression.” Dorothy Heathcote Archive, Birmingham City University.

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