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The text in process drama – breaking down habitus; crossing borders ABSTRACT: Us and Them, by David Campton, has been the pre-text in drama experiments based on difference. The plot focuses the limits between public and private, the accommodation process and the confrontation between two groups newly arrived at a place that could be any place we know. Despite the title, this playscript doesn’t fall into the trap of binary oppositions; actions and attitudes in both groups are the same – the problems and tensions, therefore, lie on the situations. The interactive style and structure of this play are suitable for a collective work and makes possible to cross the pre-text with the participants’ interpretation of fragments of the text. This allows for the appropriation of the text and for reconstructing the narrative in order to resonate contemporary concerns and to raise the different voices of the participants. By questioning the consistency and coherency of these different voices, which point to similar actions and attitudes in “us” and “them”, it is possible to draw on ethics without risking to get into the normative character of morals. The theoretical support of the theories of Pierre Bourdieu (specially regarding the concepts of habitus and symbolic violence) and Henri Giroux (regarding democratic differences and border crossings) is the core of the analysis of these experiments.


Us and Them has been the pre-text of drama experiments based on difference – the high amount of migrants in capital cities in Brazil, alike in other parts of the world, brings out the confront, or, at least the discomfort, between insiders and outsiders. In Florianópolis/South Brazil, where I live, this is a present concern in schools, once the arrival of large number of newcomers, are quite recent; the estimative is that 12 new families arrive here every day, looking for a safer way to raise the kids, as an attempt to escape from the high criminal rate of the great cities. This script, by David Campton 1 , was written for interactions within big groups and deals with key issues about arriving at a new place: facing otherness, attempting to share the space, the emerging differences, the construction of a wall, then the emerging paranoia, the need to decide whether to keep the wall or to break it down. These distinct situations point to a density of meanings and a complexity of moral dilemmas, in terms of the group’s response. Therefore, it enables the drama episodes to reach ‘pregnant moments’ 2 , to use an expression coined by Barthes.


David Campton was born in 1924 in Leicester/UK. He became a full-time dramatist in 1956. He has written a large number of plays, nearly all one-act, ranging, in his own words, from ‘domestic comedy, through costume melodrama to comedy of menace’. He has been considered a talented dramatist with a gift for ‘serious comedy’. He draws on stories of people as helpless puppets trapped into frightening situations. 2 Each episode has its own meaning and works as an axis if simultaneity, a confluence of place, situation, confront and acting.

I use here the expression drama experiments rather than drama processes, to enhance their research dimension in short term spans. Three drama experiments, developed during four meetings of two hours (schools) or three hours (communities) each, were carried out during this practice as research 3 . The main focus of the research was to look at difference – how to keep individual responses despite splitting the participants into two groups, each echoing the other one. On the one hand this keeps out the risk of binary oppositions like ‘the good guys Vs. the bad guys’; on the other hand it calls for strict rules of pacing and timing. At this extent, the starting point was to confront the concepts of integration and interaction and their methodological implications. Integration, as objective and standpoint, looks at the participants as a whole, as members of a community group who subscribe to the same ideas and systems. As such, it tends to abolish the differences and to lessen the inequalities, and comes to even up the individual specificities, and to promote closed theatre groups. Interaction, on the other hand, implies the sharing of a work where both parts respond to the same situation, which affect or modify their behavior or condition according to their specificities. The interactive approach searches to promote particular identities not only observing their differences, but mainly making this a priority. The challenge here is to reach an interaction centered on the narrative links and scenic problems. To do that the applied methodology included rituals of passage, storytelling, and theatre games based on fragments of the text. To intertwine these strategies enabled a gradual introduction to the context by crossing of text - place - memory.

Us and Them – the intertwining of text, place and memories

Theatre practice in schools and communities reflect the contemporary theatre experiences and nowadays give particular attention to the deconstruction of a written text in order to adapt it to the local context and motivation. At the same time it is possible to observe a growing interest of crossing the borders – in terms of knowledge, emotions and


These experiments were part of my academic activities and were carried out as part of my discipline’s timetable; they include students and children or locals working together, orchestrated by me.

physical experiences. The target seems to be the breaking down of the routine, the ‘already seen’, and to face old habits in the light of new references. The text, in this perspective, is used as a template 4 (circumscribing tool) to the theatre games and the subsequent re-shaping of the narrative. This allows for its appropriation by the group and to place the narrative into a new context. As a result it is possible to intertwine the context and circumstances offered by the text with the memories and/or interests of the participants, what allows for increasing their sense of authorship. The use of a play script within a context of low literacy fulfils many gaps: it enlarges and improves languages skills – grammar, orthography, phonetics, style, figures of speech; it opens up imagery borders; it offers the teacher alternatives to sequence and to deepen the process; it adds distinct cultural references. Thus the text has become paramount for my practice as research in schools and communities. On the one side, it allows for circumscribing the participants’ interactions by crossing their contributions under a specific focus. On the other side, it calls for analogies and metaphors regarding the participants’ actual context – the so-called ‘appropriation’ of the text. The experiments at the basis of this reflection took place within three distinct contexts: the first one engaged 58 people of a small town – 30 teacher students and 28 locals – from 5 to 84 years old. The second one was carried out in a primary school, with 27 kids of Year 4th and 12 teacher students. The third experiment took place at the university theatre and gathered 62 people, 12 teachers and 50 teacher students. My focus here will be on the methodological approach to the text and not on the specific aspects of the groups; these are mentioned just as a reference to the potential of using the text as a template with large and heterogeneous groups. Teacher students joined me at 4 planning sessions before each experiment. In these occasions we have examined the interactive style and structure of the script in order to select the strategies to better identify the difference between the accommodation process and the confrontation between the two groups – As and Bs – and to allow them to express their attitudes in face of the problems posed by the text.


I use here the expression template rather than pre-text to enhance the fact that many extracts of the script are used by the teacher and/or participants for storytelling, theatre games and rituals.

The large number of characters, short speeches and collective scenes (clamour, complaints, protests, demands, invocations, beseeches) facilitate the use and appropriation of the text through games, and imply constant changes. While the games make easier the interaction between actors and text, the rituals of passage keep the context in focus. Rituals of passage refer to collective, continuous or sequential actions, orchestrated by the teacher-in-role, either in the form of narration or storytelling - they describe the context to be explored and introduce an appropriate atmosphere for its development. In this sense they work as a pre-text, and circumscribe the introduction of the tasks, by the leader, and the response to the theatre games, by the actors. The outcome is that characters, actions and attitudes fit into the same context. One of the consequences is the expansion of individual limits – a collective journey does not rely on pre-existing subjectivities; it depends on the contributions of distinct subjects and as such it creates new references and influences the development of the collective narrative. For instance, the following ritual of passage was used to create the dramatic atmosphere of Us and Them for a community group who lives in a place with a high number of immigrants. Issues related to locals versus outsiders have been always present over there. The narration, by the teacher, in role as a scribe, facilitates the passage from the real to the fictional context and activates individual memories and life histories:

There is a common aspect in the family trees of practically all Brazilians: with the exception of the aboriginals – 5 million in the 1500s, today reduced to 350 thousand – the whole of our ancestors came from somewhere else. We are 150 million of descendants from immigrants and African slaves with very similar family albums. In the life history of each one there is always a ship leaving a distant harbor and the need to cross an ocean of uncertainties. In their luggage there are seeds, medicines, documents, hardware, pickles, exotic roots, small objects useful in day-to-day works, photos of relatives and the land that stayed behind. There are grief and sorrow, but most of all, there is hope: even those who were taken by force (the Africans), or expelled by misery (the immigrants) - those who arrived here preserved their capacity to dream.

The above fragment is not part of the script; it was introduced to drive the participants’ attention to the context of immigration and ownership of the land. It was

followed by groups’ work and very short family scenes related to expectations about the new land and problems during the journey.

After drawing on the accommodation and confrontation processes posed by the different habits of the two groups of immigrants, on the basis of improvisation attached to the text, a wall was built. The next step, for significant appropriation of the text, was to explore situations where discomfort and distrust are installed. The following fragments of Us and Them were used in pairs or small groups in order to link the group’s imagery to the text: “Isn’t there enough room for all of us?”, “Good fences make good neighbors”, “I wonder what they’re doing over there”, “Fancy living on the other side of the wall”, “They’ve got some funny ways of living”, “In fact walls make thoughts fly even higher”. This sequence of rituals, groups’ work, improvisations and short scenes based on the text allows for re-shaping the narrative according to the characteristic of the group. For instance, the experiment with the kids drew on urban tribes, the one in the community on immigration, and the one with teachers on entrepreneurs versus environmentalists.

Ongoing analysis – difference versus habitus

The research focus of the performance Us and Them is the practical inquiry about approaching democratic difference (Giroux, 1991) by crossing the borders in terms of the changing parameters of place (the space of the school, its constraints and possibilities),of identity (as teachers or future teachers), of history (time and circumstances of their teaching) and of power (confronts in the school context). A questionnaire is used at the end of each experiment, as a guideline for interviewing the participants. Besides representing an instrument to engage all participants in the analysis of the experience (giving them voice in the process), the questionnaire draws on the specific aesthetics under investigation – it makes visible the pedagogical and artistic objectives of the project. As such, it structures the evaluation; enlarges and improves the participants’ understanding of the research they are part of. 5 5

See the questionnaire in annex.

The ongoing analysis, on looking at difference in the school/community context, takes into account the concept of habitus, which according to Bourdieu (1982, 2001, 2007) means the internal structure, the values, the prevailing forms of perception incorporated by a person, through which he perceives the social world. It also regulates the individual social practice. In present-days family, school and media are interdependent agents of socialization, says Giroux. At occasions they associate with each other, another occasions they confront each other. When they associate they keep the tradition; when they confront they promote ruptures. How to understand change from this perspective of a dynamic interaction among family, school and media? According to Bourdieu, the notion of habitus allows for looking at the relationship between these social conditioning institutions and the individual subjectivities, once habitus means not destiny but a cultural conditioning that predisposes the individual to act or opt for something. An investigation of the concept of habitus, under Bourdieu’s perspective, points to a series of understandings which are paramount to a continuous process of teachers’ education, especially at in service programs: •

Habitus is a system of dispositions - acquired schemes of perception, thought and attitudes that frame and/or drive our responses to the social field

The inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective experiences is not explicit and it is usually promoted by symbolic violence (that is, by the discourse of the social and cultural reproduction)

Therefore, habitus is a system of personal dispositions structured socially, which has a structuring function in our minds that orientate our daily actions and attitudes

However, habitus can change – Bourdieu considers the mobility of habitus derived from individual and collective experiences

From the aspects of habitus listed above, it is possible to foresee theatre and process drama as a privileged field for teachers’ training; whether they are theatre teachers or not.

Once this research takes place within the parameters of theatre teachers training, its experiments represent a support to teacher students in their initial practice and to the school teacher in terms of reviewing concepts and strategies. Among the attitudes that have emerged at these occasions, which have been discussed and evaluated with the participants, there are the more obvious ones, like: privileged attention to the more creative students, no attention to the context (either social or fictional one), exclusion of the counterarguments, no space for discussing or reviewing improvisations (accepting whatever happens). Less explicit attitudes are those related to low expectations about the outcome, insistence to reach a consensus, transference of the responsibility of the outcome to the shortage of funds (this regarding the decision that the outcome was not suitable to be presented to a larger audience/outsiders). To that extent the notions of border crossing and democratic differences represent a way out. At every step of the experiments, that is, at the evaluation of every episode, the teachers and teacher students raise and discuss the emerging attitudes in order to foresee how to change them and/or to overcome the situation posed by them. According to Giroux (1991), to engage the participants with multiple references from different languages, experiences and cultural codes, allows for educating students not only to read these codes critically, but also to learn the limits of such codes, including those they use to build their own narratives and stories. Therefore, the challenge, here considering the field of drama and theatre in education, becomes how to promote agency and to enlarge the cultural and symbolic capital of the participants, in a world constituted by differences. At this stance Henri Giroux’s work, regarding the democratization of differences by re-mapping domination and the parameters of place, identity, history and power, brings in a new light for educators. He emphasizes that: •

The production of meanings is straight linked to emotional investment and the production of pleasure


The desire emerges from the way the individual mediates, resists to or develops forms of knowledge

Education is a political, social and cultural enterprise, which questions forms of subordination and rejects ways of teaching that hide differences as if they just represent an object of oppression.

The teacher as intellectual is able to change and transform education through the notion of democratic difference by including this at the core of the curriculum and of his teaching practice

By crossing the borders that frame distinct territories of culture, power and knowledge, the teacher may lead the students to engage themselves with the multiple references that constitute the different cultural codes, experiences and languages. In multicultural contexts this requires to go beyond the promotion of fairs to present typical food and costumes

By using cultural practices as pedagogical practices the teacher considers the historical and temporal dimensions of the text (its textuality), allowing the student to read the text, about the text and against the text. This implies to break down its cultural codes, to find out its gaps.

The analysis of the processes based on “Us and Them” has shown that the impact on the participants was caused, in general, by the text itself and the way they approached the plot: by responding to the teacher’s narration or storytelling, and/or playing with the fragments of the text (through games). In particular, some aspects that impressed the participants, according to the interviews are: •

The transformation of the space, mainly by the display of the characters and their belongings

The interaction between teachers and theatre students

The resonance between real and fictional contexts (between text and context)

The rituals and the way they opened space to individual response

The sense of ceremony caused by the orchestration of individual and collective voices

Some of their responses, literally:

“To observe the participants’ response to the ‘wall’ is quite an exercise of differences!” (by some of the students and teachers)

“Without the practice it would be impossible to grasp drama theory”

“I learnt quite a lot about the complexity of aesthetic judgements”

“It is rather impossible to get to a consensus”

“It is very interesting to observe that drama has a lot of similarities with RPG (as used online)”

The analysis of the implications of the aspects listed above according to my observation of participants performance pointed to: •

They felt comfortable on articulating their options, once they drew on fragments of the text, and were invited to link them to the props and the space. Therefore, the focus was on solving problems and not on acting.

The emphasis on differences and the need to include all participants brought out changes to the text, which included aspects of the social context.

Conceptual Analysis – to have a text as pre-text makes easier and increases the conceptual understanding. Through the ritual of passage the plot is better understood. Theatre games allow for confronting concepts and stories, and open up the stage text for further analysis. The resonance between text and context holds the interest of the group. Analogies and metaphors are evidence of this understanding.

Integration versus Interaction – the fact that one group mirrors the situations of the other one avoids the binary opposition of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Here the mediation of the teacher-in-role and the partnership between teachers/locals and teacher students were paramount – they kept visible the circumstances that led the groups to build a wall – for instance, the cattle of group A invaded the plantations of group B (school kids); the constructions of the entrepreneurs damaged the fields preserved by the environmentalists (teachers); the customs of the Italian settlers and those of the German settlers were incompatible (community people). Teacher students worked in partnership with the participants of the three experiments.

The way forward was discussed in terms of:

Crossing spatial borders – the physical spaces get their meanings from the collective movements and use of those who cross them daily. When we choose a space for a performance we indicate a possible new meaning for it; a change on its signification.

Crossing semantic borders – all the elements on the performance space signify; they are there to compose its meaning. The interaction and the close relationship between text – space – objects – actions and attitudes causes the density of signification to emerge and brings in different readings of the scene.

Crossing historical borders – historicization is a concept used by Brecht to point to the fact that an event or character needs to be considered according to social, historical, relative and changeable perspectives. This concept calls for observing men under historical circumstances; as such, leads the participants to think on their own historical, critical and changeable reality.

Crossing social borders – collaborative work to create scenes and characters reaches a social re-signification. It is possible to say that it makes explicit the interaction insider – outsider; history – fiction; space – place; and finally, history – place – space.

In order to integrate all these crossings it is necessary to make visible and explicit the tensions, ambiguities, and contradictions of the collective narrative. As Philip Taylor says: “Innovation in theatre and education implies to take risks, to assume differences and to get into the realm of the unknown” (1996:95)


Bourdieu, Pierre. 2007. A Distinção - crítica social do julgamento. Porto Alegre: Zouk _______. 2001. O Poder Simbólico. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. 2000. Pedagogia dos monstros – os prazeres e os perigos da

confusão de fronteiras. Trad. Tomaz Tadeu da Silva. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica. Battye, Susan and Cabral, Beatriz. 2003. “Crossing the Borders – Intercultural Perspectives in Multicultural Contexts”, in Heikennen, Hannu. (Ed.) Special Interest Fields of Drama, Theatre and Education. Finlândia, Jyväskylä University Press. Cabral, Beatriz and Olsen, Dan. 2005. “Framing the Aesthetic Response to a community Theatre Project”, in Applied Theatre Researcher, No 6, Austrália. Cabral, Beatriz. 2001. “Impacto e Risco em Teatro na Escola e/ou Comunidade”, in Memória ABRACE V, Salvador, UFBA. ________. 2004. “O Lugar da Memória na Pedagogia do Teatro”, in Urdimento, Florianópolis, UDESC, No 6. ________. 2004. O Professor-Diretor e a busca da teatralidade em contextos periféricos”, in O Teatro Transcende, No 13. Blumenau. Campton, David. 1977. Nós e Eles. Leicester/UK. Giroux, Henri. 1997. Os Professores como Intelectuais – rumo a uma pedagogia crítica da aprendizagem. Porto Alegre: Artes Médicas. ______. 1999. Cruzando Fronteiras do Discurso Educacional. Porto Alegre: Artmed. O’Neill, Cecily. 1995. Drama Worlds – a framework for process drama. Portsmouth, NH. Hatch, A. e Wisniewski, R. (eds) 1995. Life History and Narrative. London, The Falmer Press. TAYLOR, Philip. (Ed.) 1996. Researching Drama and Arts Education – Paradigms & Possibilities. Londres, The Falmer Press.

ANNEX – Questionnaire to inform the participants and to assess impact Us and Them Grade from one to five. 1 is the alternative you think was better explored, and 5 is the one you think didn’t work or you even didn’t notice.

A. The text “Us and Them” (David Campton), was the pre-text throughout this workshop. Its focus is the limits between the processes of accommodation and

confront among newly arrived people to a place that could be any place we know. In your opinion which aspect of this experience was more significant? ( ) The way this text allows the group to explore issues of identity and difference. ( ) The appropriation of the text through theatre games ( ) The contextualization of the text through rituals of passage ( ) The articulation between process and product

B This text approaches identity and difference as a political issue, and shows the social process of their production. Its bigger impact was: ( ) The text allows for analogies with the social context ( ) Structure and language – the similarities in the actions proposed by As and Bs ( ) The presence of doubt and uncertainty regarding the growing of xenophobia ( ) The relationship between identity and difference as stressed by the interactions between the opposing group

C. What works best during the appropriation of the text through theatre games? ( ) The games with fragments of “Us and Them” ( ) The games with objects which facilitate the connections with life histories and memories ( ) The confronts between As and Bs ( ) The interactions with the space and the props

D. The Rituals of Passage refer to tell or enact stories, collectively and by orchestration, in order to introduce a new stage or episode. They may also refer to tableaux or live images where participants get into the fictional context. While working out the context through rituals of passage, the most significant aspect was: ( ) The atmosphere they created ( ) The aesthetic format of the collective actions ( ) The information they introduced ( ) The fact that they framed the drama context

E. The articulation between process and partial products aims to incorporate the distinct voices that emerge during the process. The outcome is a sort of open rehearsals of the possible alternatives to the text. This articulation was important because: ( ) It created expectations, focus and a sense of direction ( ) It generated issues and actions related to the social context of the participants ( ) It allowed for reading actions and attitudes throughout the process and for having a balance between making and appraising ( ) It allows for sharing the process and to support the teacher as playwright

The text in process drama – Breaking down habitus, crossing borders  

The text in process drama – breaking down habitus; crossing borders Introduction Theatre practice in schools and communities reflect the con...

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