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"The Other"

One of Dorothy Heathcote’s first concerns, in working with a group, was to protect them from feeling stared at. In her article “Signs (and Portents?)”, she wrote:

The actor in the theatre, the TIE team and the teacher have all made a contract to allow people to stare at them, but the children have not made that contract. And teachers of drama who take it for granted the children have given them this permission, spend useless time in eroding the embarrassment which happens during drama lessons where children feel stared at. The obvious way of avoiding this is to give them something so attractive in the room that they feel they are staring at it. (1)

She called this an “other.” At a teacher training event, she gave an example of a drama which began with the unveiling of a “skeleton” which was under a sheet.

The piece of cloth was the first operant thing about not feeling stared at. “Do you think between us we could manage to lift this without disturbing what's underneath?” So there’s promises, there's a task, and there’s a cooperative task, because the fabric will show straight away if it's working, or not.

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So: not feeling stared at. What the teacher’s actually doing ... The teacher is protecting individual privacy, always. This will operate no matter what you're doing. You're not asking for whole confessions in a public venue.

The second thing is, in order to avoid feeling stared at, the participants can be involved in incremental tasks. ... One of the ways of helping people not feel stared at is to develop minute, incremental tasks. ... These tasks must be sequential: one must seem logically to follow the other. If you’ve uncovered a skeleton, can you now do something with what you've uncovered? That's what I would call … sequential. They seem reasonable to the people having to do them. And they are true to the materials you're handling: a skeleton in 250 years would have moved because the ground would have shifted. So whatever develops, that would have been a reasonable thing to have done. It will not be found to have been a daft thing to have done, just so the teacher could get the lesson going.

And it will foreshadow all the drama themes. Now in that sense, you see, you're operating as playwright; that, in the way that a playwright ... has to say: if this is the journey I want people to make when they watch this play, where is the beginning point? The very precise beginning point? In my case, I chose finding a skeleton as the beginning point for what would have been a year, could have been three year’s work if one were in a position to do it.

[From Video Series D: “Teacher intervention and strategies in the four levels of drama progression.” Dorothy Heathcote Archive, Birmingham City University; except (1) from “Signs (and Portents?)”, SYCPT Journal 9 (April 1982).]

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