The 20 Cs of drama education – from collaboration, curiosity and confidence to character, chaos and change, these are the essential skills and elements for 21st century learners in the Drama classroom. – Justin Cash
The 10 Cs of Drama Skills
1. Creative Thinking
Creative thinking is a central skill in all facets of drama education. Students create their own material by brainstorming ideas in small groups and then improvising possibilities by using their imagination. They are innovating by exploring novel concepts and designing material for entertainment. Along the way, students question and problem-solve at every turn. Drama processes that do not involve creative thinking are uninspiring and lack originality.
Many students of drama will pride themselves on their communications skills. And so they should! Drama education by its very nature builds interpersonal skills, requires the ability to listen carefully to others, encourages students to be empathetic and permits talking, talking and more talking in the classroom! Group work in drama demands the ability to collaborate, respect others in the same manner you would want to be respected yourself, communicate verbally and non-verbally, express confidence etc. These are all 21st century skills needed by both contemporary learners at school and sought by future employers post-education.
As so much of drama education involves group-related tasks, collaborating with peers is an essential skill. During the play-making process there must be an acceptance of responsibility among group members, an equal sharing of authority, individual responsibility and a common task or goal.
Cooperation between students in small group tasks in drama differs from collaboration in that is it often closely controlled by the teacher. Student groups are highly focused, criteria are satisfied and tasks are sometimes treated vertically with greater efficiency due to the division of labor. Cooperating in drama can see different students working on multiple tasks simultaneously.
Compromising is a key skill in drama education that, importantly, is also a life skill. When students communicate, cooperate and collaborate to create a drama product, they must also learn to compromise, as not everyone’s suggestions will make the final cut, or at least make it in the way initially intended. This is no different to the professional theatre where a scenic designer may need to reach a compromise with the director or lighting designer who may have competing needs or demands, yet all parties are striving to achieve a common goal. Learning to compromise is a vital skill for students’ learning in drama.
6. Critical Thinking
Examples of critical thinking include interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, reasoning, comparing, questioning, appraising and testing – and drama education uses these in spades. Skilled drama students understand they don’t just need to be imaginative and creative, but they must also use the left side of their brain and think critically and analytically. Testing occurs during the rehearsal process, especially when students are developing their own work. They try out ideas, compare two different versions of the same scene and then explain and use questioning and reasoning to evaluate which is better? Plus, there is no greater skill than interpreting when drama students read and perform scripts written by others.
Creativity is most definitely a skill that can be strengthened with practice. Students of drama education constantly need creative and enquiring minds to do their work. Some argue creativity must include the making or inventing of something new, others argue it is the creation of an original or novel idea, while some claim creativity is the ability to think outside the box and apply current knowledge in new and valuable ways.
Just like employers in the business world, Drama students recognise that creativity and innovation is a large part of problem-solving. Creativity in Drama involves being curious and finding new possibilities by unleashing the potential of certain scenarios or ideas. To be truly creative, one could then argue a deep understanding and knowledge of the relevant subject matter (Drama) is needed in order to manipulate known concepts in innovative ways.
Confidence is a necessary life skill that lives at the very core of drama education. Some students undertake Drama classes so they can acquire greater confidence along the way, while others possess too much confidence upon arrival! The great irony of drama education is that one needs to undertake Drama in order to acquire increased confidence, but that this very confidence is essential in order for Drama to be effective. Many students find Drama challenging because they lack the necessary confidence to feel comfortable, yet it is by undertaking these challenges in Drama class that their confidence will develop.
I’ve told many a Year 9 Drama student over the decades that her grades don’t matter this semester, the important thing is she walks away at the end of the course a more confident young woman. Don’t you think it is strange that confidence is not part of the lexicon of drama education? It is such an important skill for students to acquire, and yet because it is not particularly Drama-specific, it is never part of the language of Drama. Name me another subject at school that offers students the opportunity to develop confidence more than Drama does!
Da Vinci, a genius in all areas of human knowledge, taught us that curiosity is the breeding ground for creativity and innovation. To be curious in Drama is to ask questions, to discover why, and to observe and consume the world around you like a sponge. Curiosity is a skill that does not come readily to some, while others appear to be born with it. Once a Drama student has a healthy sense of curiosity, they will never go back, as they quickly realise an enquiring mind is a creative one. Just look at da Vinci!
Drama teaches students to be better citizens. Period. When it comes to civics and citizenship, Drama differs from other subjects at school because students can interpret their knowledge and research and then enact this in performance. Even before the performance stage, Drama students have the advantage of using role-play and improvisation to test out various scenarios of good citizenship. In both role-play and performance, Drama students can receive feedback from their peers. We should never forget that unlike every other subject, Drama is in the unique position of involving the study of the human being at its core – the human being as both Drama student / actor and the human being as character.
The 10 Cs of Drama Elements
Drama is all about creating. This is Drama’s core business. Creating performances of some kind lies at the very heart of drama education. Without the ability for students to create works, either individually or collectively, the subject of Drama would not exist.
Without character, there is no drama. Character is one of the central drama elements because the actor’s creation of character is the primary function of drama education. We can easily add multimedia, sets, costume and lighting to a dramatic piece or production, but the human character remains the focus of our enquiry whether it be a Broadway musical extravaganza or a quiet little avant-garde production in a country town.
Change is a necessary part of Drama. While much of society does not sit comfortably with change, in drama education change opens up new opportunities. Change is the gateway to exploring increased creativity. The development of new material in Drama class is always in a state of flux, dynamic and constantly changing. Change may involve reviewing developing material to see if it addresses success criteria, holds up to the group’s internal standards, accepts everybody’s contributions or point of view etc. Out of change springs originality and fresh ideas. Drama without the acceptance of change is stagnant.
Most drama lives in a state of chaos at one point or another, sometimes thriving on its existence for success. Occasionally this chaos may be a little reckless, but more often than not the world of drama education involves organised chaos. To the uninitiated it, or from the outside in, it looks like a disaster. But to those participating in the creation of drama, lots of noise, a lack of desks, costumes, music, props and physical action all contribute to a creative environment. Drama students must quickly learn to live with chaos because some of the best material springs from chaotic situations.
Control in Drama comes in numerous forms. It could be a student director carefully controlling a rehearsal with her peers or an actor learning how to control a single movement in order to make it more effective / better seen by the audience / more efficient / more appropriate to the character / faster / more gentle etc. Sometimes, less is more in Drama. Being able to control the music, bring back your acting a notch or two, refine your use of voice, have less intensity in the lighting etc. are just a few examples of the need to demonstrate control. After exercising effective control, the drama often becomes more purposeful and refined.
Climax is one of the essential drama elements in most performances. In a typical plot structure, the climax is the peak moment of dramatic tension or conflict and usually lies towards the end. It is from here the action of the drama unravels, heading towards a conclusion of some sort, often but not always a resolution. Multiple climaxes can occur in a drama, but this is uncommon, or an anti-climax can occur, instead. In a junior Drama class the teacher may inform her students their skit must have a beginning, middle and an end. Once students have grasped this simple concept, more sophisticated terms such as climax in plot structure are taught.
It seems nearly everything in drama is affected by context. A simple gesture in one context becomes a powerful symbol in another. As the plot develops within a play, each scene presents a slightly different dramatic context for a character(s). Dramatic works also have historical, social and political contexts that need to be considered. What were the political contexts in which a play was conceived. Many scholars argue all plays are political in some form. Even a play written and set in the present day has its own contexts. In summary, context in drama can include background, environment, surroundings, framework and setting.
For a while George Bernard Shaw’s famous line “No conflict, no drama” could not have been more true. Scholars once thought all drama needed conflict in order to be effective …. and then the Theatre of the Absurd appeared in Europe in the 1950s and put a stop to all that! Plays such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot rocked accepted theatre conventions by presenting a cyclical plot with almost no conflict whatsoever….and then go on to become one of the great plays of the 20the century. Nevertheless, as a general rule, conflict is a key element in most dramatic works, whether it be in the classroom or a Broadway theatre.
Conventions are accepted techniques that occur in all forms of drama. Formal conventions are often associated with theatrical style and/or historical periods. Examples include soliloquies and asides in Elizabethan drama, the use of a storyteller or narrator figure in Epic Theatre, masks for particular characters in the Commedia dell’Arte, ritualistic movement in Poor Theatre, shadows and darkness in German Expressionism, plus many more. Some conventions are blindingly obvious, such as the expectation of an audience to see and hear music and song (but not necessarily dance) in a musical theatre production. Other conventions are very basic, such as teaching a junior Drama class to always face the audience when performing.
Contrast is a necessary element in drama as it presents a point of difference. Contrast can be between characters, scenes, costumes, movement, sets, pace, mood, use of voice, and more. Contrast in drama creates variety. Effective contrast can replicate real life, keep the audience engaged, and enable the drama to be more entertaining. Imagine a play where all the characters spoke different lines but were performed in a very similar fashion. Or perhaps a musical where each character wore the same costume. If one breaks up a theatre show into all its moving parts, there are almost limitless opportunities to create contrast. However, we must be careful to only create contrast that is meaningful and deliberate.