How Theatre Educates

PUBLICATIONS: How Theatre Educates

Excerpt from: Hoogland, C. (2003). The land inside Coyote:

Reconceptualizing human relationships to place through drama. In D. Booth & K. Gallagher (Eds.), How theatre educates: Artists, educators, and advocates respond. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.Drama underlies my work as a writer (poet and playwright), teacher, and ecofeminist. Drama’s investigative actions and its storytelling conventions such as plot, character, setting, and metaphor facilitate the exploration of facts, ideas and feelings in each of my forms of inquiry. Drama’s ability to inquire into a topic as well as its ability to touch a subject’s emotional heart make it pedagogically suitable for my study of human relationships to place. In this chapter I am interested in a specific aspect of place, namely the natural world. The natural or the non-human world of plants, animals, rocks, sky, weather; in other words, the places and things that envelope human life in rural, urban, and wilderness landscapes.

I haven’t always been aware of the usefulness of drama in teaching and learning. Until feminist theory brought the body into theoretical view, I didn’t appreciate the body’s contributions in making sense of experience and in creating understanding (Hoogland, Taboo, 2000). Though I’ve been a practicing artist for longer than I have been an academic, I didn’t understand how my practice was inextricably fused to my scholarship, and how my art informs my research and teaching. As an ecofeminist I view my own connections to my body and to the earth as the basis from which to understand the relationships that are commonly presented as dualistic and contradictory. Namely, those of body/mind, woman/nature, and culture/nature.

I present my work as narrative accounts that form the two main parts of this chapter. The first is a general discussion of human alienation from place; in particular, how most children are unconnected to their local geography, and its flora and fauna. I assert the value of place and community and the natural world as a source of authority and meaning. This meaning is more than personal; I believe our survival as a species depends upon reconceptualizing our relationships and acting upon a dynamic in which the human is but one voice among many. 
In the second half I describe my research which explores the ways in which artistic approaches can increase children’s awareness of the natural world and their place in it. I use drama to help kindergarten children make connections with the place in which they live and go to school. As the children in my research study became more comfortable and knowledgeable about the natural world (its paths, contours, creatures and plants), they made observations and told stories. Their texts—words, phrases, and sometimes stories and drawings—which were dictated to the attendant adults, were taken back to the classroom to be used as the students’ “field notes” in writing and acting their own stories. Drama has been instrumental in shaping the research and in helping children articulate their experiences. A notable byproduct of the study was the illumination of the processes of literacy as the children’s experiences were mediated through artistically-informed symbol systems.


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