“I have heard that theatre can change the life of differently abled people. It is also used as a treatment method and an aid in their development. How is this achieved? Also are there opportunities available for students that are mentally challenged in the field of theatre?”
– Flora Grace Stan and Jayasoorya ma – Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore
I would like to begin with stating that I am not a certified special educator, although I have worked with children with learning and physical difficulties. I have not formally researched this area and can speak only from my personal experiences and observations. Here we go.
Drama as a tool for change.
To begin with let’s put aside abilities or “disabilities” and examine how process based drama teaching (I’ll clarify that in a bit) can help anyone – child or adult.
Let’s do the following exercise. Yes please, let’s do it, or else a large pink elephant will fall on you. #DramaTeacherQuirk
Does a memory of an awful restaurant or a wonderful evening with someone special come to mind? Spend time with that.
- There must be newspaper prop, and it must be passed (with justifiable reason) from one member of the cast to another during the entire performance.
- There must be one song and dance sequence
- There must be a slow motion fight sequence.
In the above exercise, one’s social skills, teamwork skills and even leadership skills are put to the test. Be you “starving artist” or “corporate slave”, you would know what it feels like at any meeting where you have to navigate egos (even one’s own), give each other space or take charge, listen to or negate someone and so on.
I can go on and on with several exercises and games and what their application might be towards memory, creativity, social emotional learning (big buzz word these days) and so on.
Consider another child who has problems negotiating space. Merely reaching her designated spot on stage without placing markers is an achievement to celebrate.
So can process based drama teaching “change the life of the differently abled”? Yes, in varying degrees, if it is accompanied by clear goals, a long term view, trust and faith in the process by schools and other institutions and last but definitely not the least, the support and advice of professionals like counsellors, occupational therapists, speech therapists and other such professionals.
Pause for a second to imagine an Avengers Movie poster but with the kids, drama teachers, therapists, PARENTS and yes let’s not forget music, art and dance teachers.
With respect to opportunities to perform, let’s consider two kinds, school performances and professional/ticketed performances.
Performances are touted as another way of building confidence. But why not just perform for the pure joy of performing?
If the concern however, is what the child will gain from a developmental point of view, then take the case of the typical mainstream school Annual Day performance. In a school with a cast of 100, 500 or even 1000 children, the biggest challenge for the teacher/director is to give each child at least two or three lines and hope the parents will not be too upset. #notallparents.
Support could mean, merely accompanying the child to the restroom to help her or explaining what the head teacher/director is trying to say or literally carrying the child if need be and so on.
Oh and someone dropped out because they don’t have a good role.
These are realistic situations to consider alongside our sincere intentions.
I would like to clarify that I am not saying that efforts are not being made. Not at all. This is not an attempt to bash mainstream schools. Just highlighting important things to think of, if we are to consider performances as either enjoyable or learning experiences for a child with learning difficulties.
#FactCheck #ReaderBeware #ChillOnTheOutrage #BuyMeIceCream
Let us stop short of judging anyone who does not have the knowledge or skills for this. The need of the hour is sensible and reasonable systemic change. Not forced benevolent ideas better suited for delusional activism of social media.
On a related note, I’ve seen such great sensitivity and patience in children towards their peers with challenges. Obviously in that respect schools are doing a great job. One hopes that this never devolves into charity or token sympathy. #notcynicalbutreal
I have spoken! *he said dramatically as he raised his sceptre*
Additionally for children with learning or physical difficulties there could be after school speech therapy classes, physiotherapy and just once in a while… a “meltdown” due to which a child will need time maybe even days to get centred. This can be a logistical nightmare not to mention pressure on the child and parents as well.
Then there’s fielding parent queries/complaints, writing and sending reports, break ups and… What? Umm. Moving along…
In the case of physical limitations, just grasping a prop may be next to impossible. Scripts may have to be adjusted. Co-actors will have to be sensitised. One needs experienced professionals to help them along the way. Empathy is not enough. These are the ground realities that a sentimental post on social media will never address. #DoesShaunNotLikeSocialMedia?
We already do have dancers who are deaf. Actors with Down syndrome have been seen in films. What about theatre?
It seems to be that both opportunities and performance ready actors are few… as of now.
As I mentioned I am not a certified special educator and I merely tweaked my existing lessons and methodologies. The performing arts and its teaching have been largely unorganised or unregulated and most drama teachers are theatre practitioners who take up education. The new education policy seems to be addressing this, at least for mainstream drama teaching and it will take time for the ideas to take formal shape.
As far as learning how to teach drama is concerned, I was trained and mentored at a company called Theatre professionals. Do look them up.
Whew! This has been long and there’s more to talk about, but we shall end here. I hope this has been meaningful for you. I have tried to articulate this as honestly as possible and I do apologise for any fallacies in thought and opinion.
As a parting drama exercise. Ask your child or your spouse to imitate you. Let me know how that goes! #couplechallenge #okbye. #pinkelephants
PS. For those interested, the youth theatre festival Thespo will be conducting a panel discussion on this on December 19th at 5:00 PM. In addition to myself we will hear from representatives of Baltazar Theatre, Hungary that casts actors with Down syndrome and Flute Theatre, London which adapts Shakespearean texts and devises games that they then perform for, and along with, members on the autism spectrum. Each show employs one member on the spectrum interacting with the troupe.
– Shaun Williams