The ability to solve problems is a critical skill all students of theatre must possess. Problem-solving in drama class can either be an individual or group-based activity that often lies at the very heart of effective theatre making.
Constructing a theatre performance of any kind is usually a collaborative endeavour by a number of people working together toward a common goal. This could be the anything from the simplest of plays in a Year 5 drama class, or a more complex production in a senior high or university theatre class.
The production process is littered with moments where creative problem-solving is needed. How do we interpret the script? What props or sets do we need for this play? What choices can we make with sound effects and/or soundscapes in this production? Will we stylise our interpretation in any way? Where will we stage it? What sort of lighting design will we implement? Will we costume the play realistically? Are period costumes needed? How will we run rehearsals? The list of questions requiring answers goes on and on. Frustratingly in theatre making, the lists of problems requiring solving often grows longer closer to show time, just when you expected the need for problem-solving to reduce.
Purely individual problem-solving usually involves character interpretation. It can be as specific as how do I say this line? Or it can be as broad as how should my character behave in Act 2? Internal problem-solving can often drive student actors mad, but this is an important and wonderful part of the creative process.
We should never take for granted the fact that sometimes one of the big problems in student theatre making is working effectively in collaboration with others. Group tasks in various subjects at school is a fairly common activity, but drama and theatre students will often tell you collaborative problem-solving in their discipline is particularly intense because they can spend many hours working very closely with a small group of people.
Let’s face it, the stakes are high as the final product is usually a public performance. Whether it be for assessment or simply fun, who wants to be embarrassed in front of an audience of their peers? The production process of constant problem-solving asks for student empathy, engagement, commitment, emotional intelligence, collaborative skills, understanding of others needs, verbal and non-verbal communication, decision-making, critical and creative thinking, concentration, cooperation, and more. This is no easy task.
But problem-solving in a student drama class does not necessarily need to result in a theatre performance. The very essence of drama education involves continual problem-solving in drama exercises and games, spontaneous and extended improvisations, rehearsals, student scriptwriting, interpreting teacher-provided stimulus material etc. Problem-solving is also needed when students learn the element or components of theatre in isolation (before they put them together to create a performance) such as making masks, understanding mood and tension, working with the use of symbol in drama, constructing puppets or costumes, exploring vocal projection and many more activities.
Put simply, drama class and the theatre-making process cannot exist without the need for problem-solving. It is one of the essential skills students need to grasp and is not just a drama skill, but an important life skill that will place every theatre student in good stead for life outside of school, as well.