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December 2008

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Spider Jerusalem

Irrational Rationale

I just handed in a big mother of an assignment, a complete unit plan for a senior drama class. It was made more difficult by the fact I was trying to introduce something I'm only just learning myself.

Below, I'm copying my rationale for the unit - just cos. I often reread my own journal entries much further down the track, and by posting it here I'm hoping that it'll encourage me to reflect on my own work. I kind of rushed the second half of this (hence the sudden lack of academic referencing) so it doesn't read so well - but I have captured something about my intentions here. I'm uncertain the assessment item I made was the best, but nevertheless...

The unit is a hybrid Cyberdrama and Political Theatre unit. I've tried to introduce the many new exciting facets of Cyberdrama with Political theatre from a Queensland context, taking and borrowing from the strong tradition of street and protest theatre in the 70's and 80's throughout the state. I've ignored every dramatist's favourite cranky german Bertolt Brecht, and gone more towards the agit-prop tradition, with a bit of Living Newspaper (from the Federal Theatre Project of the 30's in the USA) and of course, some of my precious Boal.

Anyway, enough jibber-jabber. Here is the rationale! Feel free to pose any questions you have about it to me - I'll be happy to answer.

omg, politcs!:-O Cyberdrama and Political Theatre Rationale

There is an increasing paradigm shift between generations where technology is becoming a central facet of life rather than merely a complimentary tool. “Teacher/artists are working today in schools with young people who inhabit a world saturated with mediated digital images and interactive technologies that are entertainment, identity maintenance and communication devices all at the same time.” (Carroll, 2005, p.16) Young people live and breathe technology, they live in a world where devices and interfaces are utilised all the time for the simplest of purposes. They are ‘digital natives’, and they navigate this world with comparative ease to their elder brethren, the ‘digital immigrants’.

“Drama explores and celebrates the human presence within real, imagined and mediatised worlds.” (QSA, 2007, p. 1) The purpose of this unit is to engage students in a world somewhere between all three – the cyber-world - where their experience and understanding may be superior to the teacher’s – to come to their ‘home-turf’ as it were. Even behind the mask of an online avatar or identity, the cyber-world is still a world built upon the human presence. Interactions in the cyber-world are by their very nature performative and identity or self-hood becomes more akin to playing a role. Drama Education clearly has an important and valuable place in the cyber-lives of students.

This ‘home-turf’ ideology is reflected in the notion of political theatre and agit-prop, particularly that which was performed in Queensland over the last 30 years. This unit seeks to engage students in powerful, meaningful dramatic experiences that are both contemporary and relevant, stimulating them through technological, environmental, political and sociological contexts.

Kim Flintoff in her 2002 keynote address to Drama Queensland proposed the question “Can students engage in the ‘authentic’ expression and construction of a self-concept (identity), and an awareness of community, through arts practice, specifically drama, enacted in virtual reality?” (p. 10) This unit seeks to answer this question in the affirmative. By combining political theatre with a Queensland context, and exploring the potential of cyberdrama, students will be afforded the chance to develop an awareness of community via ‘authentic’ expression, and build a stronger construction of identity, particularly in relation to their performance of identity in the cyber-world.

The learning experiences in this unit are scaffolded to introduce students to the ideas of Cyberdrama and allow themselves time to acclimate to the idea, particularly those who have limited resources in the home and only gain access to technologies through the school. Students will be familiarised with dramatic conventions and ideas as they appear in cyberspace, before moving into the local context of political theatre and exploring the physical conventions associated with Agit-prop and Living Newspaper. We will also briefly look at the work of Augusto Boal as a window into participatory drama, or audience as performer, a visible aspect of Cyberdrama. Finally, we will move into the melding of political performance and Cyberdrama, utilising conventions of the heritage forms in the very contemporary context.

A significant part of exploring both political drama and Cyberdrama is a two week Process Drama based on a successful online project titled “World Without Oil”. The project was an ‘Augmented Reality Game’ (ARG) that simulated a world energy crisis over a real time period of 32 weeks. Over 1500 participants took part in-role, using cyber technologies ranging from video, to blog, to wiki, to podcast, to fake news sites and news reportage. The object was to explore the political and sociological consequences over a variety of community contexts. As a class, we will explore this ARG and employ Process Drama conventions to explore this political issue in a local context – examining the effects upon the students’ own community. As a class, we will take our discoveries and our understandings and create a piece of agit-prop designed to inform the community about the need for energy conservation.

The purpose of this is to scaffold for the class their assessment item, a forming task where individually students devise an agit-prop show with a significant cyber element. The focus is on creating a vision for a performance that deals with a political issue and utilises the dramatic languages of cyberdrama and political theatre. The assessment item for the unit takes into account the differing levels of technological access in the school and asks students to build their proposal from the technology we have used and scaffolded into class time. This is to ensure equity as the community level of access is still not 100% (NB: Anecdotal evidence only). The beginning of the unit asks for a skills audit of students, giving the teacher adequate time to adjust learning experiences as necessary.

This unit aims to increase the students’ perceptions of the world around them, not only developing an understanding of drama and its use in making meaning, but also in their development as active citizens of their community.

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