(or, why these games are more than just fun)


These are from Northwestern, which has an excellent Creative Drama program and has influenced much of its history:

history of children's theatre and some figures from creative drama

more in-depth creative drama history

Why Creative Drama?

A Philosophy of Performance with Youth

Johanna Smith, Arizona State University, 1998

My definition of drama and theatre at this point is perhaps best described in terms of the more inclusive word "performance." My definition of performance is very similar to one proposed by Richard Schechner. He writes in Performance Theory that "a tentative definition of performance may be: Ritualized behavior conditioned/ permeated by play " (95). From Aristotle onward, philosophers have described the educational value of the human instinct of mimic play, which I believe is the driving force behind performance.

I believe, as does Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor and Chairman of the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago, that mimic play is truly educational, in the original sense of the word education (which means "to lead out"). He writes, "The things that are worth doing for their own sake are those that lead us out of the limits that the obligations of survival impose" (1986:9). Performance leads to another phenomenon Csikszentmihalyi describes: the "flow experience." "Flow," also known as an "optimal experience," occurs when all of the concentration one is capable of is focused on one immediate activity that is fully engaging. It is a "holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement" (1977: 36). By focusing so intently on the world we create through play, we "exclude all but the central experience," according to Barbara Myerhoff. "This obliterates ordinary consciousness: critical, cognitive, perhaps even cynical and solipsistic--the very attitudes that destroy the possibility of belief" (247). These experiences are, to me, part of the essence of education. Csikszentmihalyi believes that "performance can be a context for the kind of creative experience that is the necessary prerequisite for socio-cultural evolution to take place" (1986: 3). By having flow experiences, we encourage ourselves to see beyond limits. The educational impact of the flow experience, achieved through performative acts, can prepare children not only for the world as we know it, but also for an alternate vision of reality.

The make-believe of the artist ... shows in concrete and tangible ways that other possible ways of being could exist. On the stage we see events that we know are that at the same time is and is not, provides evidence that life has more options than we imagined. That realization alone can unlock endless possibilities, freeing the mind from the shackles of the factual. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1986: 5)

What is educational to me, however, is not performance per se, but the PERFORMATIVE PROCESS. It is similar to play: "these operations of dissolving ordinary hierarchies, of treasuring things beyond their ordinary worth, of setting aside certain times and places for the manipulation of special things in a world defined non-ordinarily: this is also a definition of the workshop-rehearsal process, the ritual process, the performative process" (Schechner 1985: 110). The child should be an active part of this process, not a passive observer. Observation is something they learn through other media. By doing, they are truly learning. Through performative acts, children can learn anything; imagine anything; change everything. I educate in the hopes that, corny though it seems, children can change the world.

I can sum up my perspective with Augusto Boal's philosophy of the Theatre of the Oppressed: "Theatre should be happiness, it should help us learn about ourselves and our times. We should know the world we live in, the better to change it. Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it" (xxxi).

Works Cited

Boal, Augusto. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass P, 1977.

---, "What's Interesting About Children's Theatre." Children's Theatre: Creative Drama and

Learning. Ed. Judith Kase-Polisini. New York: U P of America, 1986.

Myerhoff, Barbara. "The Transformation of Consciousness in Ritual Performances." By Means

of Performance. Eds. Richard Schechner and Willa Appel. New York: Cambridge U P,


Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P,


---, Performance Theory. New York: Routledge, 1988.


 home  one two lots resources links about comments