What does it mean to teach Drama in Secondary School?

What should we be teaching when we teach Drama as a subject at Secondary School? What is Drama? What is Theatre? Are the two related? Should we limit the scope of our subject to Theatre? Why should be teach Drama?

Let’s start with some definitions. Let’s start with Drama and Theatre.

Drama plays a major role in our lives. We experience real-life Drama in the form of our own personal experiences. Our experiences day-to-day, the key moments in our lives and the minor quiet moments. We experience the lives of those around us. Our families, friends, communities, and our society. We come across the Drama of others in news and current affairs. We encounter fictional Drama in film, television, and Theatre. We find it in the books we read and the social media content we follow. In fact, Drama is in every contact and connection we make. The concept of Drama is all around us.

Theatre on the other hand is a method of communication. A way of telling stories. At the heart of a theatrical experience is a moment of close connection between performer and audience. A close connection during which something – an emotion, an idea, a concept – is passed between the two. How Theatre makers go about creating that moment is both a marvellous and limitless thing. At its heart though is the audience and the actor. As Peter Brook famously said in An Empty Space “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. [Someone] walks across this empty space whilst someone is watching [them], and this is all that is needed for an act of Theatre to be engaged”. 

Are the two related? Of course they are. Theatre is one way of communicating Drama to an audience through acting. But it isn’t the only way of communicating Drama to an audience through acting. There are other mediums like television, film, YouTube or Facebook video that communicate Drama. Should we be confining what we teach to just Theatre? Can’t be also analyse the acting of a person in a film? They use the same movement and vocal skills to communicate their character to an audience. I can certainly see a very valid faculty structure where Media and Drama teachers combine to each a Drama/Theatre/Media course at Key Stage 3 and then split at Key Stage 4 and 5 into separate subjects.

So what is the purpose of teaching Drama at Secondary School? The purpose of Drama in the context of teaching young people at Secondary School is to learn about the structure of Drama and the vast subject of Theatre. At the core of the subject is a practical activity, for Theatre is a practical undertaking. No different from Music, Art, Sport or Design and Technology. Teaching young people the different genres, styles and forms of performance involves actively doing them. It involves emulating, interpreting and incorporating them into the student’s repertoire. But it also involves the study of them, looking at them academically. Comparing and contrasting them verbally and in written word. Working in groups, pairs and individually to analyse and evaluate their potential, their use, and their impact. To be successful in the subject students need to be able to spend an equal amount of time reading, making, theorising and writing about theatre.

And why? Why study Drama? Because it is a subject steeped in history, deep and rich in fascinating, complex and engaging content. The study of it helps us understand, engage with and drive the Drama that occurs in the world around us, within us and involves us. We study it because it is important. It contributes to our wider understanding of how the world works, how we fit into it and how we move forward it in.