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Differences between Mantle and the Commission Model: Training with Iona Towler-Evans

As part of our Training Week, we worked with Iona Towler-Evans.


Iona shared her recent two-year commission in Port Talbot, in South Wales, where marginalised young people in a further education college accepted a commission from Sally Burton, the surviving widow of Richard Burton. Working in collaboration with local people and institutions including Eirwen Hopkins of Swansea University, and the Neath/Port Talbot Library), they created and produced a film that is both a legacy of the life of Richard Burton and a story of ‘the man behind the media mask.’


Iona also highlighted some of the differences (and similarities) between Mantle of the Expert and the Commission Model.

"Productive Tension"


One key difference lies in the question of productive tension. Dorothy said: “Productive tension is quite different from conflict. It is the key to deepening the exploration of motive influencing action and therefore the journey.”


In the Commission Model, the participants carry the “client” in their heads. This is "the future audience to whom we must communicate and demonstrate clearly and face their questions". This generates a sense of productive tension. Dorothy stated: "What births and sustains the drama gene in every task is the sense of the immediate now which is generating its own future. School tasks are often set in “over there” time. (you do it, it will be judged by someone else)." In the  case of the Hexham Hospital Garden Commission, the "commissioners were constantly assessing, evaluating and developing their ideas for their clients in immediate time". These are the elements of "now" or immediate time, as defined by Dorothy herself:

  • Things have to be made to matter

  • The task must feel important and worthwhile

  • There needs to be a valuable and perceivable outcome

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

  • Tasks must create feedback possibilities

  • The situation must feel reasonable and genuinely truthful

  • People must feel protected from feeling stared at; and

  • The self-spectator must become alert and be registered

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Iona suggested that, in Mantle work, the primary productive tensions are in the imagined world. Participants fulfil the imagined (fictional) commission to professional standards needed by the project, and set by the imagined client. Dramatic tensions can be invented to engage the group. Secondary tensions come from everyday worlds within / outside the classroom.

In the Commission Model, there are multiple primary tensions in the everyday worlds within / outside the classroom: "Will we fulfil the commission to the professional standards needed by the project, that may be set by the client(s)? Will we get the work done on time? Can we rely on ourselves and each other to work as a team?" Secondary tensions come from the imagined world, e.g. through dramatic episodes, and through the development of imagined / projected clients.

Iona introduced seven key questions, which apply to both systems - and which are all related to productive tension and "now" time:


1. Where does a topic, specific focus, materials, activities, and intended outcomes come from?

2. Why are the young people motivated to engage in the work? Who benefits from their work? - They want to help other people

3. What are the young people doing and making? - They collaboratively create something for others that feels like a significant accomplishment

4. How are the young people framed? - They work for others with professionalism as a team, drawing on what they collectively already know and what they can do to learn what they need to know and do, to complete what has to be done

5. Whose viewpoints and positions are addressed as the project unfolds? - They are constantly in dialogue with those who asked for their help

6. Where does productive tension come from? - Not knowing how we will get this job done well and on time for people who are relying on us is a productive tension when we are all coming closer to becoming the people we desire to become

7. What and how are the young people learning and developing expertise? - They are doing, making and inquiring critically together

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The cards (above) were produced by Dorothy Heathcote, to explain the elements in "now" time in drama. The photographs illustrate four of the key processes that young people engage in, within any Mantle or Commission. From top to bottom: explaining; inquiring; consulting; scrutinising.

Iona is a National Trainer in Heathcote’s pedagogies with over 30 years’ experience teaching with drama in schools. Over a twenty-year period, Iona planned and worked closely with Dorothy who assisted in devising and reviewing projects, and occasionally teaching alongside her, as Iona taught using both the Commission and Mantle of the Expert approaches. More recently, in addition to leading training with teachers and writing, she has been researching and evaluating these approaches in schools. In particular, she has used the Commission Model in long-term projects in Wales in both primary schools and in a further education college. 

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