Intercultural and lifelong learning based on educational drama1

Propositions for Multidimensional Research Projects

Alkistis Kondoyianni, Antonis Lenakakis, Nikos Tsiotsos

Volume VII, Issue 2, 2013, doi:10.33178/scenario.7.2.3
© 2013, The Author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


This paper is an attempt to propose multidimensional research projects and therefore it is addressed to researchers and theatre/drama-pedagogues. Our principal aim of this paper is to suggest ways to investigate the role of drama both as a methodology in itself in the fields of education and lifelong learning, and as a means suitable for implementation in many other arenas. Our focus on alternative dramatic forms such as puppetry, dramatised narration and creative writing in role, enhances the implication of a rather broad spectrum of prospective participant groups beyond students, such as immigrants, prison convicts and the elderly. We also aim at the facilitation of the involvement of all people who seek ways of improving their professional competence and who could benefit from the implementation of drama techniques in workplaces such as museums, public libraries, and in some sectors of the tourism industry. We firmly believe that the role of educational drama deserves to be consolidated in many areas of social science and social work.


  1. Introduction
  2. Educational Drama and Pedagogical Theatre
  3. Programmatic Texts of European and International Organisations
  4. Proposed Research Targets
  5. Suggested Research Actions
  6. Concluding Note

1. Introduction

The research proposals that we suggest in this paper concern Greek and international standards and they are based: (i) on the propositional texts of the European Union and of various international organizations, (ii) on lifelong learning researchers findings and (iii) on Studies concerning the role of drama and the arts in education internationally. Furthermore, our research proposals are accompanied with suggested actions (see Chapter 5). Through these suggested actions, we argue that a variety of social issues could be effectively handled and investigated through the practice of drama.

Drama has been embraced at all levels in the fields of education and lifelong learning, thanks to its capacity to promote intelligent feeling,2 and to generally contribute to the aesthetic education of children and young people (see Hentschel 2010). It does this largely through its capacity to sustain suspension of disbelief3. Besides, it has been proven capable to enhance learning at all levels of the curriculum,4 rendering it popular among both educators and students. The practice of drama gives students the opportunity to actively participate in imagined worlds involving a broad spectrum of vocations and knowledge fields, actually helping them rehearse their responses to situations they will be faced with in their adult lives. Notably, drama courses have an established place in the curricula of academic departments not only of education or the humanities, but also of natural sciences and technology (see Fines & Verrier 1974, Adiguzel 2008, Dörger & Nickel 2005).

In an era when sociopolitical and economic conditions are reshaping Europe and the whole world, recent insights in the field of human sciences bring forward the need for groundbreaking educational policy-making. In this socio-political and educational context we consider the arts and mainly drama as an especially powerful subject and one closely connected to our rich European cultural inheritance.

  1. This should not be confused with the term “emotional intelligence” as defined by Goleman (2004). It does not refer to a subject’s social skills or capacity to emotionally adapt to ever-changing life conditions. Rather, it is concerned with the “feeling-ideas” (Gefühlsideen) and the subject-reflexive action (present in all works of art) that renders possible the communication of ideas through art (see Langer 1954; Witkin 1974; Ross 1978 & 1984; Hentschel 2010). [Back]
  2. The term “suspension of disbelief” was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria in 1907, in order to stress the semblance of truth that a writer infuses into a work of literature, so that the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative, while accepting the fictional characters and actions as temporarily “real”. The term has been widely used by the pioneers of educational drama, and most notably by Heathcote and her devotees, to stress the importance of drama’s fictional reality created in the classroom capable to bring about action and interaction among students-characters who also experience the created condition they are asked to act in as temporarily “real”. In the words of O’Toole (1992: 50), "Drama in education and theatre in education are two more such genres. They take place in settings which actively mediate against the ready suspension of disbelief; schools have very specialised purposes, and very strong messages of reinforcement for them - many of the practices of schooling are specifically designed as focussing devices for those purposes." [Back]
  3. “A problem with many curriculum guides” says Taylor (2000: 7, our emphasis), “is that they present objectives and content in a static and lifeless manner seemingly ignoring the fact that people have to make curriculum happen. Any good drama teacher knows that curriculum is a lived experience; it is negotiated with colleagues and students - a fallible event dependent upon the abilities, moods and backgrounds of those who construct it.” See also Lenakakis 2004 on the role of the drama teacher in the formation of a “living curriculum”, and Domkowsky 2011 on the multi-dimensionality of learning promoted by drama. [Back]

2. Educational Drama and Pedagogical Theatre

To make the necessary distinctions between these two pairs of terms without any etymological elaborations, let us succinctly define “drama” as a scenario and “theatre” as its enactment. This study of ours, then, focuses on the establishment of and the cooperation between different scientific, social and cultural groups on the one hand, and the combinations among different forms of artistic expression and creative activities on the other. In this venture we place particular emphasis on the role of drama and the arts, since these universal symbolic activities have developed common forms and patterns capable to summarise human creativity and inventiveness in response to individual and social needs.5 Especially with regard to theatre, the commonalities between various countries, ethnic groups and cultures are particularly evident, both diachronically and synchronically: from the rituals of prehistoric African societies to the modern Olympic opening ceremonies; from the ancient Greek drama to the Kabuki dance theatre; from Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed to the Forum Theatre in Australia; from Brecht’s epic theatre in Germany to theatre forms as diverse as those of Pakistan or New York (see Fischer-Lichte 1999, 2008; Koch 1998, 2012; Lehmann 2006; Γραμματάς 2012; Κοντογιάννη 2008). These commonalities are owed to the fact that the practice of theatre helps people deeply understand each other, regardless of their physical, ethnic and cultural differences. Indeed, the expressive media of drama and theatre have the capacity of condensing real-life social stories and universal binary opposites – as put forward by Levi-Strauss (1963) – such as realities and dreams, loneliness and community, happiness and despair, blessings and sufferings. The immense stage of the world is represented with props and partial sceneries of rooms and houses, offices and worksites, hotels and factories, streets and local communities, villages, cities, airports, mountains, deserts, a majestic theatrical universe transcending borders, language, race and religion.

Thus drama and theatre become hubs for bringing all participants together as members of a global community, by managing to transform everyday realities into everyday dramas (Pinkert 2005, O’Toole & Daneman 1996), dramas which imbue peoples’ lives with a sense of metaphor and render them more meaningful (Boal 1993, 1996, Pammenter & Mavrokordatos 2003, O’Toole & Daneman 1996, Somers 2006).

Drama and theatre are quintessential promoters of the communication of ideas and behavioural patterns in our civilization; they assist us in our attempts to play out basic roles which help us form our own personal identities, ideals and social values.6 They serve as blueprints for shaping our social lives, in turn setting in motion the creation of political frames of mind, which are not created randomly; they are created as a result of the sedulous examination in the theatre laboratory which is a social laboratory; a laboratory that provides us with a more precise and tangible context.7 The lens of theatre helps us better envisage and apprehend human behaviour. And it is, in fact, this realization that renders us capable of criticism and revolt, imbuing us with the will to either alter our unbearable realities or abolish them from our personal or social landscapes.

Drama and the arts are most effective tools for sensing and making sense of the world. They function not only through seeking the natural and social laws governing human action, but they also create imageries providing a holistic access to natural and social phenomena.8 They enrich the human mind so that we can transcend and expand our conceptions of life. Theatrical processes help us perceive the world as a much broader and richer entity than any small social sphere, creating for the spectators transitional phenomena, dynamic areas of experience through which internal and external realities come together in a controllable manner.9 According to Winnicott (1992, 2005), transitional phenomena imbue human existence with valuable insights and offer meaningful outlets for people seeking answers to deep questions. The heart of the drama workshop are the students who interact with their own enacted characters in a symbiosis of the ego with the other in the safety of the role-play.

A more analytical eye on the procedures taking place in a drama workshop (see also Lenakakis 2004) reveals the central importance of the role-players as both conscious agents and objects of the action. The formation of a subjective imaginative reality presupposes an interrelation of the role-player with the character as an archetypical figure as well as with the fictional context in which this character acts.

In the same context, the regularity of real life is transformed into the play’s own peculiar regularity. These two realities relate to each other in a dynamic, critical and at times subversive relationship, where the life history and the whole personal repertoire of the actor-person becomes activated in a holistic, yet ineffable manner.

Nevertheless, while the personal play10 involves the construction of another reality11 that obeys to the personal conventions of the actor, the materials for the construction of such a reality are still only symbolic interpretations of the actors’ real experiences. Thus, the symbolic play activities can offer a fruitful context for the exploration of the external reality, as it is conceived and interpreted by each actor and each acting group. The free, safe and creative action in the personal play eloquently reveals the actor’s attitudes, values and not least internal conflicts. Any such selective representation of external reality utterly facilitates the development of a fruitful intercultural conversation among participants and groups of participants. And this is because the joint action, the compliance to the rules of the play with the aim of a common achievement, as well as the reflection over the collective fictional experience, makes it easier for the participants to step into each other’s shoes, to consequently gain a fresh perspective on reality and to overcome their prejudices and fears towards the unfamiliar (see Λενακάκης 2012).

Art offers alternative and stimulating pathways of learning and promotes aesthetic knowledge (Langer 1954) which in turn encourages intuitive understanding, hence forming the grounds for the evaluation and realization of our place in the world (Bruner 1979, 1990, Reid 1986). Winnicot (2005) considers art as a “transitional” phenomenon, as a dynamic territory of experience, as an “ego and non-ego experience” where internal and external realities coexist and interrelate. Moreover, the aesthetic illusion (Cattanach 1996, Gombrich 1960) offered by works of art constitutes a distant “otherness” which enables an exploration of the world outside the constraints of tangible realities (Langer 1954). Taking account of the rather telling assumption that these alternative realities are projections of the self externalized through a variety of expressive media, one could conclude that education through the arts promotes an understanding not only of the world, but also of the abilities of the individual him-/herself (Witkin 1974). In the same context, Hentschel’s view on aesthetical education through the theatre, is very interesting:

I understand theatre pedagogy as a discipline of aesthetical education. From this point of view, theatre pedagogy is not understood as a collection of pedagogical means or tools that should introduce certain target groups to some desirable behavior or notable matter. In fact, the genuine issue of theatre pedagogy is theatre, its specific materiality and production. Aesthetical education therefore asks which experiences theatre pedagogy can procure for non-professional actors. And, subsequently, which educational effects may be opened through these experiences. Instead of starting with the question of what can be transmitted by the means of theatre (which aims and contents) – and therefore use theatre as a pedagogical instrument – I ask how theatre is produced and what kind of experiences can be won in this process. Pedagogical and social aims are not fully discarded. Yet, in terms of aesthetical education, I argue that they are not to be fixed in advance and in a normative way. Aesthetical experience that contains an educating experience is more likely to result from collective theatre work on a concrete subject. (Hentschel 2008)

Best (2012) underlines the unbreakable link between the cognitive and the aesthetic, while Ross (1984), through recognition of three important regions of every school curriculum, namely the academic, the practical and the cultural, emphasises the creative arts as a significant part of the latter, since in his own words: “The arts are important to a child’s education because they are a way of knowing in their own right and offer unique access to certain dimensions of human experience” (Ross 1984: ii, our emphasis).

Theatre, indeed one of the most significant forms of art, has become a dynamic means of expression. Its “significant form” (Bell 1914: 4) had already become a social and cultural educational agent with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the three major tragic poets of Greek Antiquity. The ancient Greek spirit, condensed in the language of drama, has been a fundamental inspiration for the development of the finest of European and international culture.

  1. For more on the function of symbolic forms, see Cassirer 2010; Langer 1954; Fuchs 1999 & 2011. [Back]
  2. For an attempt to denote the role of drama as a critical pedagogy agent, see Doyle (1993). [Back]
  3. "My own view is that, limited as this learning experience may be in terms of an art form, it would be perverse for a drama teacher to exclude it on these grounds. It does, after all, give practice in the skill that is basic to all kinds of acting, which is: an ability to engage with something outside oneself using an 'as if' mental set to activate, sustain or intensify that engagement." (Bolton 1982: 137) [Back]
  4. For an account of the holistic vision of the arts and its role in children’s thinking, see Reid 1986 and Abbs 1979 & 2003. See also Schiller’s (2004) famous maxim about the whole-dimensional activation of man in play: “man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays” (Letter XV). [Back]
  5. For an interesting account of drama as a transitional experience see Schechner 1988 and also Turner 1974 & 1978. The former creates a combination of Winnicott’s account of the transitional phenomena and Victor Turner’s view of the transitional nature of the social rituals, in an attempt to establish performance as an indispensible factor of social existence. To reiterate one of Bruner’s (1996) views, culture shapes our cognition and provides us with the basic tools with which we not only construct our reality but we also realise our potentials and the best of ourselves. Knowing our cultural milieu enables us to expand our understanding of the worlds we inhabit whilst contributing to the development of memory, imagination and language (Olson & Torrance 1999). Our cultural heritage and more specifically mythology and theatre, ancient Greek philosophy and literature, painting, sculpture, music, popular culture and -tradition contain dynamic cognitive forms which comprise unique achievements of the human spirit. From these respects and in relation to Luria’s (1978) psychosocial theory and to Vygotsky’s (1978 & 2012) sociocultural conception of human cognition, we are able to stress the importance of the involvement of the arts and drama in the context of education, as it comes about in accordance with the recent developments of psychology, education and technology. [Back]
  6. A thorough account of the personal play of the child can be found in Slade’s (1953) pioneering, and now classical, work. [Back]
  7. For an interesting account of the dynamic and revolutionary character of art’s otherness, see Marcuse 1978. [Back]

3. Programmatic Texts of European and International Organisations

The research proposals that we suggest below demand that we initially focus on the propositional texts of the European Union and of various international organizations. The main aim of our exploration was to record the philosophy, the principles and the priorities put forward in these texts which center around three basic areas: i) the place and the contribution of the arts in the context of an international cooperation regarding issues concerned with education and information, ii) the promotion of information, creativity and educational research in the service of a more qualitative education, iii) life-long learning and adult education.

More specifically, these texts regarded:

In addition to the above, we explored more research findings regarding the basic aspects of lifelong learning23 and naturally the role of drama and the arts in education internationally.

4. Proposed Research Targets

Having in mind the proposed research programme and the activities its implementation involves, two sets of targets are determined: one regarding individuals and the other drama groups.

Targets regarding individuals:

Targets regarding drama groups, allowing our work to build up from a regional and national Greek level through to a European and an international level:

5. Suggested Research Actions

5.1. Research Objectives

The methodological action we propose for the suggested pieces of research is concerned with the role and effectiveness of educational drama in a range of social and cultural applications, such as in schools, museums, geriatric institutions, prisons, local authority cultural units, mental health institutions, playgrounds, social gatherings or galleries. This multiplicity of interventions requires the implementation of a wide variety of educational drama strategies such as psychokinetic games, role games, simulation games, physical theatre, free and structured improvisations, fairytale narrations, puppet theatre and shadow theatre. These dramatic forms can very well combine with other forms of aesthetic understanding and expression, such as plastic arts, music and dance.

5.2. Suggested Methodological Approaches

Our research recommendations can be grouped into two basic categories: (1) Basic Research, during which new insights are produced regarding the basic causes of various phenomena and events, and (2) Experimental Development, during which new knowledge and skills for its use are acquired and existing knowledge is recombined for the production of novel work.24

The recommended pieces of research can be carried out in three separate and yet interrelated methodological units. The first unit involves a discussion of the research structure; decisions are met on the general framework of the research with regard to the research subjects, the research fellows and assistants, the material to be utilized, and finally the style and the qualitative characteristics of the research target group. During the second unit, the educational and theatropedagogical methods employed for the materialization of the programme are studied, estimated, and clarified. The third unit involves an analysis of the programme outcomes, of the knowledge and skills acquired by all target groups.

Taking into account the European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training25 framework, we can suggest the following methodological steps: 1. Planning, 2. Implementation, 3. Assessment, 4. Evaluation and 5. Review.

The suggested methodology for the materialization of our research recommendations is mainly based on the qualitative paradigm, while allowing the parallel implementation of quantitative methodological tools. Due to the idiosyncratic character of the research field, we recommend that the research be carried out according to scientifically flexible and pre-organised research plans using quantitative data, statistical generalizations and mixed methodologies.

In our suggested pieces of social research, the approaches that bear a critical significance are those of action research and case-study research. These two methodological procedures can also be greatly enhanced by the Grounded Theory Method,26 producing insights that could provide the field with a plethora of creativity- and novelty-promoting techniques such as brainstorming, nominal group approaches, focus groups, the Delphi technique and its variations, etc.

Moreover, the very techniques of educational drama can be considered as research approaches in themselves. These involve games of telephone conversations and interviews-in-role, hot seat, conscience alley and various role-plays. In some pieces of research we suggest the use of direct observation, interviews, questionnaires and other documents. Whenever written communication is involved, we stress the necessity for a discourse analysis of the exchanged mail messages among participants, of the content of their kept diaries and their life-journals. Life narratives can also serve as an excellent and flexible methodological tool, as a medium through which can bring to the surface the complexities of the participants’ feelings and subjectivities. More invaluable data can be brought into the bargain through the use of pictures, life charts, sound and video recordings which can be analysed by the participants themselves.

Through the suggested research procedures we aspire not only to reach conclusions concerning the matters at hand, but we also aim at acquainting the participants with the methodological thinking and knowledge that can greatly enhance future research projects of their own.

Finally, the meta-analysis of the pieces of research carried out by each research group can lead to general and more specific conclusions and set new insights and dimensions leading to the expansion of existing theories.

5.3. Proposed Actions

The actions of this programme aim basically at the development of a cooperation among different social groups. The social groups on which the research is mainly focused are elderly people, prisoners, museum educators, primary education teachers, students of drama departments in national Greek universities, and citizens in local communities.

In this section we set out the programme’s actions which involve the steps of planning, realization, quantitative assessment, evaluation and review.

ACTION 1: “Educational Drama and Social Bodies”

ACTION 2: “Narrative and Social Bodies”

Phase A

Phase B

ACTION 3: “Puppet Theatre”

Secondary Activities:

ACTION 4: “School for Immigrants”

The implementation of this action will begin from schools on university premises or other public places where the Greek language is already being taught to immigrant or repatriated pupils with the aid of educational drama techniques, where their creativity is fostered through the use of images, puppetry, the plastic arts, improvisational dramas, songs and dances.

A one-year course which could be scheduled to be carried out with one three-hour class every Sunday afternoon, followed by two one-year courses aimed to be organised in response to the immigrant students’ interest.

The action will involve the use of writing- and diary-in-role as well as improvisational dialogues, the writing of theatre plays, the giving of puppet- and shadow-theatre performances and the publication of a newspaper.

The teaching staff will be composed of pensioned and unemployed teachers (properly trained) and by students who have successfully attended an intensive course on language teaching.

Secondary Activities:

ACTION 5: “Lets Go Theatre”

ACTION 6: “School of Tourism”

6. Concluding Note

In the present work we have attempted to succinctly present the educational potential of drama and theatre, as well as the actions we intend to undertake in various social, cultural and educational milieus to unlock as much as possible of this potential. We have used theatropedagogical and social sciences research findings, taking into consideration the basic programmatic views of European and international bodies on culture, art, innovation and lifelong learning.

We have presented a good number of interdisciplinary projects and actions we are working on, which focus on the creative interchange among diverse cultures and people through drama and theatre, an interchange that has valuable and life-changing lessons to offer to all participants.

An article of this length could not do justice to all aspects of drama, theatre and art which are constantly gaining momentum on all levels of standard and occupational education. The following bibliographical references offer sufficient justification for their powerful influence in our lives and their impressively growing importance in education and society at large.



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