Ämnesdisposition

  • PREMISE

    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.

     

    Macro-area processes

    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.

     

    Introduction

     

    Opening up and warm up exercises:

    -            Relaxation on the floor

    -            Relaxation standing

    -            Clap hands

    -            Names

    -            Names and qualities

    -            Gestures to the centre

    -            Counting game

    -            The raft

    -            The raft … suddenly!

    -            Invisible threads

    -            Characteristics of space (as if )

    -            Salutations

    -            The mirror

     

    Exploring

     

    Exploration exercises:

    -            Starting with an object

    -            An extraordinary object

    -            Transformations

    -            Starting with the body

    -            One word, one body

    -            Tableaux vivants

    -            Bas-relief

    -            Theme-based compositions within a space

    -            Mental images

    -            Rhythmic machines

    -            Starting with words

    -            Overlapping issues

    -            Flow of words

    -            Powerful words.

     

    Building

     

    Playwriting building exercises:

    Preparing to write

    -         Telling a story through an object

    -         Telling your story

    -         Listing situations

    -         Listing characters

    -         Probing characters

     

    Writing

    -         Writing individual scenes

    -         Writing dialogues

     

    Giving back publicly

    -          Considerations regarding the production

     

     

    2. Guidelines

     

    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.


  • OPENING UP AND WARM UP EXERCISES

    We refer here to the beginning of the workshop. The group is faced with the task of learning with approaches that are completely different from the traditional classroom ones. The exercises serve the purpose of breaking the ice, introducing the participants to this distinctive process of learning and helping them to relate to one another in a positive manner, while preparing them to learn as much as possible. At this juncture, it is also possible to explore the challenges of the individuals in the group in terms of openness/closure to this type of workshop process (which, for example, involves the use of the body as a fundamental element) correcting the emphasis, if need be, with respect to certain situations. The warm up exercises should be repeated (alternating from lesson to lesson) at the beginning of each workshop session in order to reawaken the group dynamic and build energy, allowing for specific focus on the things to do. Many of these exercises are carried out in a circle, a method that allows everyone to open up, look at each other and the trainer in the eyes and feel personally and directly involved by being inside the process and never at its margins. Creating a cohesive and well-functioning group is a pre-requisite for the success of each workshop session, especially didactically speaking.

     


  • EXPLORATION EXERCISES

    One of the most obvious and immediate difficulties that a workshop like this may have is that, along with not knowing the host language, the participants often don’t even have a connecting language (for example English). This situation obviously varies depending on the educational level of the students and sometimes one of them may have to serve as a translator for the others. The exercises we propose serve to explore personal potential and fill in some basic linguistic gaps. This may be the most important section because it is through these exercises that students come into contact with words from the host language making them their own. For optimal effectiveness, the theatre trainer should have the collaboration of a language teacher in this phase. He/ she will explain and correct structure, contextualise the words and situate what happens within the host language milieu. These exercises must be developed and adapted according to the context and are often lengthy. By evaluating the type of group, its composition, its capacity and receptiveness, the trainer can decide to proceed in three different directions, which can eventually be combined, and start with an object, the body or a word.

     

    A - Starting with an object

    These exercises are geared toward simultaneously increasing creativity and the vocabulary of words used.

     

    B - Starting with the body

    The approach could initially be perceived as forced by participants. It begins with a very simple and developed theme and starts from the body, or rather, uses the “introspective” capacity of physical action. The playwriting exercises that start with the body have unconscious dynamics as their points of reference rather than logical thought. It is from this dynamic that we will need to start to structure a story. This approach could be constructive in groups that have the possibility of exploring themes that are particularly personal.

     

    C - Starting with words

    This is an approach that is obviously easier and more natural with groups that are cohesive or that are uncomfortable with abstract work. It starts in the mother tongue, and not immediately with telling stories, arrives gradually at telling personal stories, or community or traditional ones. The aim is to discover “universal stories” that are part of the collective consciousness and common to all human beings; the same ones that are fixed within the antique canvases of the commedia dell’arte. The capacity to tell stories openly can be prepared with exercises that help build verbal confidence.


  • PLAYWRITING BUILDING EXERCISES

    Playwriting is one of the important creative moments in these guidelines. Within the context of employing theatre for migrant adult literacy, playwriting is certainly a phase of fundamental importance, both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective, as well as for the quantity of language structures used by trainers and their complexity. While theatre remains an aid for language literacy, as well as a factor that can fortify the relational dimension, it also serves at this level as the ideal instrument to practice a language and explore the complexities of communication while achieving a particularly in-depth immersion into its structures.

    In this phase, the theatre trainer must be constantly accompanied by a guest language teacher to work toward the best results in total synergy.

    We believe that the best approach for a trainer who wants to produce a play within this context is community theatre. This approach deals with the “dramatic talk” of a community (Rossi Ghiglione A, Pagliarino A. (2011). Fare teatro sociale. Rome: Dino Audino, p. 113.). The exercises to produce a play allow the trainer to work on themes, stories and experiences, building on stories and situations to develop a theatre format. As Alessandra Rossi Ghiglione, director and founder of the Social and Community Theatre Centre of the University of Turin notes, it is about “the theatre of experience” (Rossi Ghiglione A, Pagliarino A. (2011). Fare teatro sociale. Rome: Dino Audino, p. 113.) closely tied to the content of what has been lived individually and collectively. The trainer has the task of listening to her/his sensations and gathering the theatricality intrinsic to the stories and the planned exercises.

    A - Preparing to write

    B - Writing


  • CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING THE PRODUCTION

    Producing the play is the final part of the theatre and learning process. It can be staged, depending on the situation, by limiting participation to people related to the group (relatives, friends, etc.) or, in the case of a workshop that is of longer duration and more articulated, by rendering it an official performance inviting the local population. By nature, theatre presumes a final public event; a concept developed in the work sessions. Notwithstanding the fact that the work described in the guidelines has a strictly didactic perspective, it does not take away from this requirement. We believe that the performance can have more than one benefit for the group of participants in the workshop: firstly, because it is the acknowledged conclusion of the work process. The moment that a narrative hits the stage it crystallises and becomes an object with a complete form. Naturally, it is also a way of putting what has been learned to the test in a fun and participatory manner. An important discussion must take place in choosing the space for the performance. The conclusive act of giving back publicly can take place, depending on the possibilities available, in a conventional theatre space or an unconventional one designated for the specific needs of this performance.

    «I can choose any empty space and decide that it is an empty stage» (Brook Peter (1998). Lo spazio vuoto, Edizione Bulzoni, Roma, p. 21) but the choice is certainly not irrelevant. From a certain perspective, the choice of a conventional theatre space allows for the use of technical instruments (lights, audio, etc.) and makes things easier. On the other hand, a “non-conventional” space allows for greater public involvement, with the natural division between the stage and the audience felt less. In any case, the space selected will be an important condition for the success of the performance. If the space is not clearly a theatre one, it is better to select a neutral environment that doesn’t evoke a specific use (as a gymnasium might do where there is equipment visible, for example). Interpreting the space chosen on a more complex level will be necessary so the staging itself speaks to the space and the characteristics it represents.

    Obviously we are not aiming for a production with professional characteristics. The quality of the work is measured with another ruler, very different in this case, from what normally occurs in staging a theatre performance. In other words, the work will be as qualitative as the participants’ benefit from the process in terms of learning and language is. There is, however, another aspect that we cannot avoid taking into consideration and that is, in the end, innate to the narrative that the play is based upon.

    If the performance is to be a success, the narration will have to be managed appropriately and presented to an audience, which will surely be a way of ensuring an encounter: a meeting between a group of migrants who tell a story and a group of people from the host country. This is when the production acquires another significance which goes beyond the functional aspect of learning a language initially established. Through the performance, two peoples will meet and, perhaps, understand each other. One will tell their own story and experiences to the other. It will be done using the language learned with all the limits that entails, but it will be a formidable instrument for mutual awareness. And it could plant the seed for distancing fear because we only fear what we do not know.


    • A DESCRIPTION OF A BRIEF WORKSHOP (3 DAYS)

      Preconditions

      The working group is made up of a total of ten participants. Some of them understand the target language very little (that of the host country) and others don’t understand it at all. The duration of the process is three intense days, six hours a day. Given the brief duration of the workshop, the goal that we established was to increase the vocabulary of participants and to begin writing brief stories to give back publicly.

       

      First meeting - Beginning the process

      The session begins with a rather long relaxation exercise (relaxation exercise done on the floor) followed by a few warm up and micro improvisation exercises.

       

      First exercise.

      Given the composition of the group of students, the trainer decides to do the “Overlapping issues” exercise. The exercise is repeated three times in pairs with an indication each time of the changed issue. At the end of the first exercise, each participant will have three topics they developed ad-lib.

       

      Second exercise

      All the participants line up and go to the stage one by one discussing their topics (the first person then goes to the end of the line and then, when their turn comes up again, will discuss the next topic and so on).

      They will try to keep the discussion going like a stream of consciousness as much as possible. Up to this point the mother tongue is used.

      Assignment - the trainer asks the participants to select three words from each topic in their verbal improvisation. Each participant will, therefore, have to choose nine words. The word selection can be done in various ways: for example because of an emotional bond (words that we like in particular or that have a particular meaning for the person who chooses them) or for utilitarian reasons (words that can be useful for something). In any case, once the selection has been made, the group will have 90 words to work with.

       

      Third exercise

      Physically representing words. The trainer asks the participants to physically personify the words selected. The portrayal can be more or less descriptive or clearly abstract. Normally this moment requires various attempts that must be carefully supervised by the trainer.

       

      Giving back in a circle

      Each person gives back the words they selected to the others in a circle. The words are guessed at and translated into the target language (the host one) and written on a flipchart. Each time a word is guessed, all the participants in the circle pronounce it imitating the gesture invented to describe it. At the end of the work session, all the participants have learned a good number of words in the target language. They have associated physical movements to the words.

       

      Second meeting - beginning the process

      The session begins with a relaxation exercise that is different from the one carried out the first day, but equally long in duration, followed by a few warm up and micro improvisation exercises.

       

      First exercise

      Review the set of words learned. In a circle, each participant says a word and makes the related gesture. Everyone repeats them until the review of the words selected the day before is complete. Now all the words and gestures have been memorised.

       

      Second exercise

      The exercise should be carried out by participants individually. The trainer asks each participant to choose only three of the set of words learned in the host language the day before. The exercise consists in creating a brief story of a few lines centred on the three words selected. The story must be conceived of in the mother tongue but the words selected have to be said in the host language. The words selected are like milestones around which the interpretation will be built. The exercise continues until everyone has come up with a completed brief text. At the end of the exercise a process of giving back publicly will take place. The text is presented to everyone in the mother tongue but the selected words are said in the host language.

       

      Third exercise

      The trainer asks participants to transform the text just presented into a form of gestures. The only words that should remain pronounced are those in the host language.

       

      Final giving back publicly

      At the end of the work session, participants perform a nonverbal sequence from which the host language words emerge.

       

      Third meeting - beginning the process

      The session begins with the usual fairly long relaxation exercise (the exercise conducted on the floor at the first session may be repeated) followed by a few warm up and micro improvisation exercises.

       

      First exercise

      Based on the Raft exercise, participants walk within a space in a homogenous manner and at each encounter with another person the physical actions related to the words from the day before are carried out. In this way, the processes that were worked on the previous day are reviewed and retained to memory.

       

      Second exercise

      The short stories from the day before are consolidated as a sequence of actions and words (in the host language). The process becomes repetitive. The trainer asks everyone to select three more words from their short story, which will be given back in a circle and, as happened in the first encounter, guessed and translated into the host language. These words already have a corresponding physical movement and are re-assimilated by the group and written on the flipchart. The group’s vocabulary broadens. At this point, the entire group knows a large number of words in the host language and is able to connect them.

       

      Third exercise

      The short story created in the previous encounter is enhanced with the new set of words. In the end, three actions that correspond with the words are substituted by the host language version. The complexity increases. It becomes necessary to introduce grammar rules, for example masculine and feminine, singular and plural, and basic morphological forms. At this juncture, the presence of a language teacher who interacts with the trainer is fundamental.

       

      Final giving back publicly

      At the end of the work session, all the participants can perform their short story made up of a few lines in the host language, having absorbed much of the vocabulary of all the other stories along with the vocabulary of their own.

       

      A month after the workshop, all the participants clearly remember the words learned and the texts portrayed.