1. Curriculum Structure
The curriculum structure that we present does not embody the characteristics of language instruction curricula, in other words, an indication of minimum objectives and results in learning. Instead, it outlines the topics that the research team identified after having examined the variables described in the needs assessment and which helped establish the guidelines.
The unique nature of the task, compared to a regular programme for a didactic process, is in this case, the singular nature of the group of learners and the informal methodology which we intended to use. In fact, by nature the theatre workshop cannot be represented in a modular programme and is affected by a series of variables, some of which are entirely unpredictable. Important variables might be the number of hours available, temporal changes, the number of participants, their characteristics in terms of gender, culture, educational level, the spaces available and so on.
For a theatre workshop to be successful the trainer must be capable of adapting each moment and exercise to each situation which is created starting with the conditions evident, which can be very different from one workshop to another. This premise is necessary to understand why the research team preferred not to work on defining rigid modules and instead on macro areas of intervention which allow ample space for the real protagonist, the trainer, who will have to re-work the planning each time. The macro areas of intervention can in some way be defined as modules and will be described in terms of objectives and topics, which will in turn be delineated through a series of exercises that will be listed and described both in the actual guidelines and then, as accurately as possible, in the didactic materials.
The entire workshop process is firstly intended to provide assistance for learning a language on a relational level and, more importantly, to construct a useful tool for strengthening learning.
The articulation of the macro-area processes is structured to allow participants to enter into the logic of the process using theatre as a tool in a progressive and rewarding manner. Described below are the stages which generally characterise the workshop in its entirety, regardless of the duration (be it a few days or months, their articulation will nonetheless be respected), and which must be called to mind at every work session.
The RT’s work resulted in a succinct description of the following macro areas and the ensuing topics for the workshop curriculum; considered as relational tools to help learn a language. The specific description is inextricably linked to the description of the guidelines and the didactic materials, which we will address subsequently, providing a comprehensive understanding of the didactic process being proposed.
Opening up and warm up exercises:
- Relaxation on the floor
- Relaxation standing
- Clap hands
- Names and qualities
- Gestures to the centre
- Counting game
- The raft
- The raft … suddenly!
- Invisible threads
- Characteristics of space (as if )
- The mirror
- Starting with an object
- An extraordinary object
- Starting with the body
- One word, one body
- Tableaux vivants
- Theme-based compositions within a space
- Mental images
- Rhythmic machines
- Starting with words
- Overlapping issues
- Flow of words
- Powerful words.
Playwriting building exercises:
Preparing to write
- Telling a story through an object
- Telling your story
- Listing situations
- Listing characters
- Probing characters
- Writing individual scenes
- Writing dialogues
Giving back publicly
- Considerations regarding the production
The guidelines are the natural evolution of the list of recommendations and topics developed during the planning process, after the project meetings and, above all, at the workshops; where the principles and premises developed in the planning phase were tested and revised repeatedly until a satisfying and coherent structure was found. These recommendations are intended for teachers and theatre and language literacy experts, and contain a list of tools and techniques grouped in logical sequences. The work described is based on the principles of theatre workshops.
Theatre workshops have become a widespread practice in the most diverse contexts since they were first introduced in the 1960s by Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowsky who aimed to emphasise, through the name, the characteristics of a contained elaborative space with research goals. Today the concept of theatre workshops has extended well beyond the simple pursuit of expression and being an actor but has opened up to different contexts, which include the social and therapy group dimensions and the aim of learning. In this latter area, the activity is viewed as a structured process which proceeds according to a logical plan on the basis of the learning needs of the working group, which may vary from situation to situation based upon a series of factors that can be quite diverse. For example: the size of the group, its composition in terms of gender, social, cultural and religious characteristics, the age of the learner, and so on.
Over time, the structure of a theatre workshop has experienced a sort of “standardisation” process taking on characteristics of proven effectiveness. As Claudio Bernardi notes, normally a process is followed that is «very similar to the phases of the rites of passage» (Bernardi C. (2004). Il teatro sociale. Rome: Carocci, p.81).
This ritualised sequence allows the trainer to manage the work phases while accompanying the learner in a very focused and effective process.
The exercises are consolidated while taking into account this type of conceptual and operational system. Nonetheless, each of them can be creatively re-interpreted and utilised in different contexts from those proposed. It is also necessary to take into account the fact that each exercise will be measured against the personal characteristics of the single participant and the learning group in its entirety. In fact, migrant groups, as mentioned above, are generally characterised by their particularly heterogeneous nature. Above all, the cultural characteristics of the participants must be considered and the process adapted on a case-by-case basis; insisting only when it seems clear that an obstacle can be overcome without lacking respect for the cultural background of the participant.
Moreover, these recommendations do not set a timeframe for carrying out the work, nor identify a specific protocol for action, but limit themselves to identifying and listing a series of exercises that may be adapted, depending on the timing and characteristics of the group, at the discretion of the trainer who is the real protagonist of the learning process. Each of the exercises listed will be fully described on the work sheets that make up the didactic materials. In general, we believe that a workshop of medium to long duration (for example around 60 to 80 hours) can be considered the most effective. Nonetheless, positive results can also be obtained with workshops conducted in a more limited timeframe if they are meticulously geared toward a precise purpose. Finally, a sequence of actions will be described in which some of the listed exercises will be utilised to achieve a determined result and mark a path toward building a preliminary narrative.