Winds of division and exclusion constantly swirl about in our field. They are not new or unfamiliar, but like the El Nii?? o cycle, they return after seasons of respite to stir up and revisit issues long-thought resolved. They shake loose vital moorings and kick up the dust of confusion and doubt obscuring the path to the future rather than deepening our collective understanding. If we could finally put an end to this cyclical rehashing and create a sound and shared foundation, our field would begin to move forward in a limitless progression of ideas, theory, practice, and creative exploration.
Our efforts would turn from self-fixation and semantic hair splitting to an outward orientation of service to the field, our students, our colleagues and our audiences. In 2000, Joan Lazarus raised a warning flag to the field in these words: Unless a nationally or internationally prominent “champion” for arts or theatre education emerges and moves this work to the forefront of public attention, however, this dynamic, influential work will remain the exception rather than the rule.
In that case, then, as the century continues, a forward looking, inclusive approach to theatre education will diminish and become nearly extinct, as the energy, passion, and vision of these few individuals wanes and they succumb to the isolation and demoralizing effect of the dominant culture. 1 Joan’s point is well taken, but why must we look for only one “champion” or a lone voice crying in the wilderness? How much more powerful would our message be if it were carried on the unified voice of our field? How different are we really?Order now
Aren’t we already unified in our commitment to the belief that positive theatrical experiences greatly enrich the lives of all young people? Why then do we often fixate on the nature of the theatrical form rather than celebrate our intrinsic similarities? If the influence is positive and purely delivered, how can it possibly matter if the child experiences the theatrical enrichment as an audience member, an actor performing for an audience, or as a participant in a process drama? Each experience has its own valuable purpose along the connected continuum of theatrical practice.
Contrary to our own personal biases and preferences, one form is not purer than another. None can truly lay claim to a favored position or hold out that it is more importance than the other. Certainly one is not diminished by the practice of another. Joan delineates the opposite ends of the continuum of theatrical practice as follows: … at one end of the theatre education continuum will be those teachers, parents, and administrators clinging to … the production of plays and musicals from the Broadway and regional theatre repertoire… At the other end of this continuum, there will be…
men and women who design and teach a responsive, process-centered, holistic curriculum that engages… in the exploration of relevant social, historical, and educational issues… 2 There will always be differences in the approaches we take, but let us not be separated by our individual coordinates along this continuum. Issues of taste need not divide us into separate camps when our common purpose should be to lift the entire field and eradicate poor and shoddy practice from among our ranks. After all, poor practice in any profession reduces the viability of the whole.
Excellent practice remains excellent practice whether or not it meets our stylistic preferences. We should not be so narrow as to believe that sound theatrical techniques, not in keeping with our personal approach, are somehow ineffective or valueless. Only when we remain open to new ideas and means of theatrical expression will we be able to grow individually and collectively. A practice in our field that has added to this separatist tension is the tendency, by some theorists and practitioners, to attempt to expand understanding and scholarship by merely coining a new label for an old practice.
This endeavor may have generated book sales and elevated certain individuals within the field, but the confusion it has caused has been detrimental to the field in general. So many of us are working in isolation brought on by nothing more than semantic separations. We fail to recognize the duplication of efforts because others, who are doing the exact same things in their corner of the world, are calling it by another name. We are indeed a field separated by our terminology. Case in point, this issue of Stage of the Art is dedicated to the practice of Process Drama.