Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
The project Narratives of Social Change: Supporting Sustainable Action through Creative Multiliteracies unites research staff at the University of Glasgow with educational professionals from Glasgow City Council. The aim of this project is to support teachers to use children’s literature to explore themes related to the concept of citizenship such as migration, identity, culture, and social justice. The first phase of this project has produced a series of workshops. This article, written by Julie McAdam, describes the second of these workshops, which has used theatre to explore the themes of the project.
During the second workshop we decided to use theatre to explore the themes connected to the project. The idea for using theatre was based on the work of Augusto Boal, who drew on the work of Paulo Freire to write Theatre of the Oppressed.
The theatre workshop build on the metaphor of mirrors, windows and doors explored in the previous workshop using artefacts and provided us all with a space to see and feel emotions related to ourselves and others. The dramatic action was based on the wordless graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan and took us all on a journey that we did not quite expect.
Why did we use theatre?
I wanted to incorporate theatre for two main reasons, the first is because Boal (2008) describes the use of theatre as a new language. He says ‘By learning a new language, a person acquires a new way of knowing reality and of passing that knowledge on to others.’ (2008: 96). So my thinking was that by adding theatre to our repertoires, we would all be involved in communicating using a new language begin and in doing so we could create and discover a more complete picture of what we know about issues connected to language teaching and language learning. The second reason was linked to Boal’s ideas that theatre empowers and changes people, (this differs from traditional Aristotlean theatre that allows the characters to think and act on our behalf). With Boalian theatre, we all take on a role and get involved in the dramatic action, try out solutions and plans to take the action forward (2008:97). This provided a further link to the project aims because our embodied action at this stage might allow us to feel more prepared to carry out social actions in our everyday lives and move towards social change in our classrooms.
What we did?
I had to work with the Director and together we decided on a narrative for the Tan character to use in order to explain why we were all in the same room. We provided everyone with a set of instructions beforehand explaining what and why we were using Boalian theatre. We marked the entry into the drama by gathering in one room and moving collectively into the space designated for the drama. On entering the new space we met the character who was dressed to look like the main protagonist on the front cover of The Arrival and was introduced as a visiting teacher/academic. He called himself Tan and did not speak any English, which put us all in the position of having to interpret the meanings he was making. He carried a suitcase and used the artefacts in the suitcase to help provide more information about himself and his speciality. He then went on to tell us all about his speciality and used some diagrams to help explain. To conclude the session he asked us for some practical advice connected to living and working in Glasgow.
What happened next?
After the session we all returned to the original room for tea/coffee and a discussion of the workshop in terms of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The Actor and the Director accompanied us and together we explored the ways in which the metaphor of mirrors (knowledge of self) , windows (knowledge of others) and doors (taking social action) related to our roles as teachers working with new arrival children in Glasgow’s classrooms. We were all surprised by our emotional response to the activity and our apprehension at taking part, as well as the ways in which the activity allowed us to explore some of the everyday assumptions we make with new arrival children. In our discussion we explored issues related to empathy, control, language learning, and knowledge of language, identity and intercultural competences …
Boal, A. (2008) Theatre of the Oppressed, London: Pluto Press.
*For the newest developments about this project, follow Sustainable Glasgow: Narratives of Social Change, where this article was originally published on the 15th of April 2014.