Dramatic Expressions - Teaching personal, social and emotional skills through drama

Vamos Theatre

Posted on | October 6, 2017 | No Comments

September 21st and I had one day off work. ‘Do something nice,’ urged my kind husband.

Friends of ours had spoken enthusiastically about Artrix, the Arts Centre on the outskirts of Bromsgrove. Off I tootled that afternoon, taking pot luck as to what was showing. A matinee on a rainy day.

I drew up in the spacious car park. As I switched off the windscreen wipers I could see a number of older people, muffled up in raincoats and hats, either walking or being pushed in their wheelchairs into the building. Something was up.

Once inside Artrix everyone – carers and seniors alike – were being warmly greeted by staff and other people, one of whom, though relatively young, seemed to be dressed in older person’s clothes. She met one person with, ‘Hello, I’m Bidi and I’m one of the actors in the play you’re going to see this afternoon, Finding Joy’.

Finding Joy? What was this? I had a quick look round for some information. Finding Joy – a fully masked play about dementia by the theatre company Vamos

Ooh. This was a challenge.

In recent years my own father has shown the early signs of problems in this direction. You see, I cannot say it yet. He says, ‘My memory is very poor these days’ and to my sister he said the other day, ‘I’ve lost my memory’. It’s sad. We mourn. We say, ‘Does it bother you, dad?’ ‘Not really’ he says ‘but I don’t know what mum’s talking about sometimes.’

Did I want to spend my day off thinking about this? Yet, the title intrigued me. Finding Joy. It sounded positive rather than the opposite, and anyway I love a good play.

But once in the auditorium, things took a different turn to the usual. The actors stood on stage, addressing the audience, first without their masks and then with. They explained the characters and introduced the music to be used for individual scenes. These elderly theatre goers listened carefully and so did their carers.

And so the play got underway. Joy, an elderly woman, is living in different parts of her earlier life – a life dominated by WWII, air raids and evacuation. We see her in her courting days, dancing with her young man and picnicking as a new mum with her family. In the present day her daughter and grandson don’t know how to cope with her or how to react to the apparently strange things that she does. It’s beautifully told through mime. Not a word spoken. Action, gestures, props and music are all that are needed for the whole meaning to be clear.

Poignant and comic, thought-provoking and absorbing. The ingenuity is in the fact that, by the end of the play, you realise that you have learned a fair bit about how to be around someone with dementia, without knowing the process by which this has occurred. The drama shows you what to do. Very clever.

I was first out of the auditorium but already the actors had whipped round that back and were there to greet their audience. Enthusing and congratulations over, I explained a bit about my background. ‘Yes, we’ve been working with deaf actors and deaf audiences’ said the male actor I was talking to. ‘Really?’ I said, surprised. ‘Deaf people don’t tend to go for puppet-like or masked actors because they can’t see the actors’ lips to lipread.’ ‘But think about it. There’s nothing to lipread. Only mime’, he said. I thought a bit. This was true.

About a fortnight later I was chatting with an English teacher from Braidwood School for deaf children in Birmingham. ‘Have you seen Vamos?’ she asked. ‘Our kids love it.’

So, it was true.

Vamos, I see your artistic technique as having huge potential for deaf children and young people. I will be running a workshop in January on using drama with deaf children and your name and what you are doing will be up there in lights!

Shakespeare, personification and deaf youngsters

Posted on | July 8, 2017 | No Comments

When you were studying for O level or GCSE, did you learn that great speech of Macbeth’s after the death of Lady Macbeth which starts ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…?’
What an expression of the meaningless of life and Macbeth’s indifference to it!
Yet, what might this speech mean to a youngster who is deaf?
Shakespeare has Macbeth say:
‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage…’
Here, life is portrayed as a character. In other words, life is personified.
Shakespearean plays are full of personification. Here’s another example from Macbeth, after he murders Duncan:
Macbeth does murder sleep

What does he mean? Sleep is personified, but this can cause a problem for deaf youngsters approaching the text for the first time?
For some deaf youngsters, personification seems to be a problematic concept. Why is this? It seems to have something to do with the way that concepts build in the mind for some deaf children, right from a young age (Theory of Mind).
So, is this a full stop for young deaf people? An end in the road? Is this part of what deters some deaf people from approaching Shakespeare, together with other devices, for instance metaphor and idioms?
Can sign language adequately express these aspects?
Can deaf children be supported to develop these concepts?
These are questions to be answered?
If you have any thoughts, please contact me.

RSC and semi-integrated signed performances

Posted on | January 28, 2017 | No Comments

Ooh, have you seen?

The RSC ‘continues its commitment to semi-integrated British sign language performances’ where interpreters appear on stage with the actors, dressed as appropriate characters.

This was its announcement for Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer, which followed on from the success of the technique in its production of the Christmas Truce on 2015. The technique has been introduced by Erica Whyman, now Depute Artistic Director with the RSC, and formerly with Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne, where integrated signed performances were also part of the access strategy for audience with special needs.

As Whyman said, as Christmas Truce was launched, ‘We are always looking for ways to offer as many people as possible access to our work and this is a fantastic way to bring it alive……..Caroline, the sign language interpreter, will be close up with the actors in the thick of the action dressed as a nurse. We hope that this will offer all of our audiences a better experience.’

I have good reason to believe that the RSC is committed to continuing its access to deaf children and adults. More of this anon….

Prag16!

Posted on | January 28, 2017 | No Comments

After the success of the Black Sheep Press resources Prag14 and Prag15 (see Books and Resources page), Prag16 is now out. It is the Advanced set of Social responses,developed in response to teenagers’ needs.

Social interaction in these years can be challenging! Youngsters are moving into the realms of romantic relationships, with all the associated rituals! They are coming into contact with adults as they start to move beyond the protective boundaries of home and the ‘brokering’ role that their parents once performed. Now they meet people on the bus, the cafe, the cinema- each situation demanding its own communicative response.

These situations and more are addressed through the new resource. Through a series of pictures and suggested role plays a number of situations are addressed including:

  • apologising
  • passing on a telephone caller
  • introductions
  • parting at the end of an event
  • responding to another person’s needs
  • repairing a conversation

and, thinking about the specific needs of youngsters with special needs, dealing with enquiries about an assistive device e.g. hearing aid.

Here is a resource which explores these scenarios, reassures the youngster with well-worn, well-tried responses and gives chances for practice through the various lesson plans on offer.

Learning for Peace

Posted on | March 29, 2016 | No Comments

A couple of weeks ago I ventured briefly into the Education Show at the NEC. Well, it’s on my doorstep and although it’s not really my cup of tea I did meet up with one of my bestest friends and we had and excellent lunch together.

Shimmying quickly past the many purveyors of IT related products, playground equipment and assessment materials, I managed to avoid eye contact with most.

To my surprise and curiosity, towards the back of the hall, was a small stall devoted to the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project. Here was something different, at last.

Something stirred at the back of my mind….Jacqui O’Hanlon, my co-author of  Using Drama to Teach Personal, Social and Emotional Skills had worked with them. We had acknowledged that some of our materials had originally come from their project and we had received kind permission to include them.

They have a lovely new book out –Learning for Peace and I bought a copy instantly. So many resources, so many techniques within this slimline book – all to deliver the message of peace-building to children. Very much worth having a look at.

Eagerly I turned the section ‘Approaches and Techniques: Drama’. The page begins with a thoughtful section on whether a circle is the right arena for all children to show their drama. This was something I had not thought of so was pleased to learn. ‘A circle is not always a safe space for everyone – safety and trust need to be built on week by week’ the author tells us.

Then came descriptions of some of the trusty drama techniques: freeze frame, thought tracking, hot seating, role play and forum theatre, role on the wall and conscience alley. Nicely described and a reminder of a greater range of possible tools.

Thank you to the Quaker Project and perhaps I will see some of your representatives again soon.

From Conversation Sofa to Black Sheep Resources

Posted on | March 28, 2016 | No Comments

Well, hello  again!

‘It’s a long time since we heard from you,’ I hear you cry.

‘And why is this?’ I ask…. and the answer is, ‘Because I have been working on resources for Black Sheep Press‘.

My Conversation Sofa ideas eventually translated into a proposal to Alan Henson of Black Sheep Press, a company which produces resources for children with language needs. Here I worked with Helen Rippon, both a speech and language therapist and an illustrator. We worked on producing two packs, the aim of which was to challenge children with common social questions and scenarios and to find common responses through the use of drama. We worked on a basic pack for children between 5-7 and an intermediate pack for those between 7-11.

And so after many  drafts and iterations the two packs were published. They are Prag 14 and Prag 15. The essential stimulus is Helen’s cartoons and the essential tool for exploration and consolidation is drama, as described in the lesson plans.

It has been an absolute delight to work with the Black Sheep team – Alan, Gill and Helen in particular. They are encouraging and helpful, but also provide critique and fresh ideas.

And so it is that we are working on a third pack. This will be the advanced pack and much thought has been put in to considering the sorts of challenges which teenagers meet – introducing new people, ‘fessing up ‘ to errors, responding to phone calls and visitors are just a few.

More about the advanced pack soon……..

Friendship Terrace by Black Sheep

Posted on | April 4, 2012 | 3 Comments

‘Ah, good old SULP‘ I remarked as a member of our Speech and Language Team leafed through resources in preparation for her lesson with Key Stage 1 children the following day.

Wendy Rinaldi’s Social Use of Language Programme seems to have been with us for ever, providing a vital resource for children having difficulty with friendship and communication skills.

My colleague and I started discussing similar resources for children just that little bit older. ‘Of course, there’s also Friendship Terrace,’ she told me, an enthusiastic gleam in her eye.

Termtime over,  I have the opportunity to share you with you, dear readers, my thoughts around Black Sheep Press and Friendship Terrace in particular.

Firstly, we cannot escape the Elephant in the Room – the price difference between Wendy’s products and those of Black Sheep. Suffice it to say that, as I glanced over Wendy’s price list, a sip of tea which was going down very nicely up to that point suddenly appeared to change direction resulting in a major coughing fit.

Has anyone got money like that to spend at the moment?

To be fair we are not comparing like with like.  Friendship Terrace gears its materials towards character traits rather than particular conversational skills. The author, Sue Nicholls, has a background in being a Youth Worker and Childminder. Plenty of experience of conflict resolution there then!  The emphasis is on ‘Friendship Blockers’ and ‘Friendship Builders’. There are stories, printables and instructions for use.

Friendship Terrace spans a different age range to SULP (which is split up into Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 materials) and I wonder how that would work.  Key Stage 2 SULP materials seem to show illustrations of very tall youngsters engaged in rather teenage pursuits. In contrast Friendship Terrace, with an alleged age range for 4-12,  has illustrations not unlike The Mister Men in style. Fine for the younger children…. 

I find myself standing up for Key Stage 2 children again.  What exactly are their needs at this point? It’s a daft question in some ways, I know. Where are the specific resources?

But well done Black Sheep Press. I like your stuff and will be coming back!

Theatreland Walking Tours – Signed!

Posted on | April 3, 2012 | No Comments

Well, here’s an intriguing thing. Official London Theatre is offering two walking tours  – one exploring the History of Theatreland, and the other discovering Haunted Theatreland. And on a scheduled date for each event the walk is to be signed by a BSL interpreter. Sounds great.

I notice that the second of these tours – Haunted Theatreland – takes place in the dark of a November night so let’s hope that the Guide and her interpreter stop under lamp-posts and other sources of light to allow the face and hands to be clearly seen. Of course the atmosphere should be spooky but not so dim that communication is obscured.

Great idea!

Social Settee or Conversation Couch?

Posted on | February 17, 2012 | No Comments

Over this half term I’ve had time to delve around a bit behind those headlines of a few weeks back which suggested that employers are concerned about potential young workers’ lack of interpersonal skills, amongst other things. Here’s one for example: http://tgr.ph/AspjCA

Interpersonal skills are, apparently, one of a set of ‘soft skills’ which  includes elements such as punctuality and organization. Emphasis is now being placed on the teaching of such skills in schools as a preparation for life in the workplace, so it is said http://bit.ly/w8rOxO

It seems to me that  the work I’ve started with the youngsters sits well with this. Of course we are always trying to ensure good results in English and Maths for deaf pupils, but to stand the best chance it seems that interpersonal skills are also key. The difficulties for deaf young people to develop these skills at a high level are obvious. However, I don’t think success in this area is altogether related to degree of deafness. It seems to me that it has something to do with personality, and something to do with a willingness to empathesize and enter into the needs of others.

One area around which I have been working recently is that of  ‘social responses’ . We get as far as teaching children to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the right places, but it seems to me that we sometimes don’t get much further than this. For instance we say, ‘How are you?’ to a child and they answer ‘OK’ or ‘Fine’ but do we teach them that this is, in fact, a two-way enquiry? If someone says, ‘It’s my birthday’ or ‘I won the race’ or ‘My cat’s just died’  what are appropriate replies? At what age should we be expecting to see the development of these responses?

And so these are the resources I am working on just now to use with my conversation couch…or is it a social sofa?    

Dorothy Heathcote Obituary

Posted on | December 27, 2011 | No Comments

Sandra Heston of the Guardian sent me this excellent obituary honouring the work and memory of Dorothy Heathcote. Never realised that as well as her inspirational work she also had a very kindly face!

Thanks Sandra!

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