What the World Needs Now is Drama
Science, technology, engineering and maths – in a digital world, we increasingly understand the importance of these subjects to our future prosperity and prioritise them accordingly in our schools and colleges. But what do we lose in the process? Inspirational theatre educator, performer and drama advocate Philip J Oosthuizen (Education (International), 2017) explains why we all need a little more drama in our lives.
“I grew up in Phalaborwa, a small town in the north of South Africa. I really love that town but growing up, seeing things differently to those around me wasn’t something that was really encouraged. As a result, I was racist, sexist and religiously intolerant. I did not understand that people see different things, and therefore see things differently.
“I think we can all agree that today, the world is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the social and political spheres. Modern culture has reduced us unfollow and delete buttons. It’s made it ok for us to entertain only that to which we can relate to, and to shy away from that which is different. Within these spheres, there are a lot of people who feel frustrated, probably because of the way we engage in dialogue. If we want to change, to rediscover what it means to be dialogically human, we must turn to drama education.
“While I have always loved performing, I didn’t encounter the transformative power of drama until I hit high school when my drama teacher started asking me one simple question: Why? Why did you decide on that character trait? Why did the playwright choose that setting?
“As a result, I formed a habit of inquiry and engagement which has helped me open up to the world by ridding me of my own fears of what I have perceived as different. I have over seven years’ worth of teaching experience, including two years as the chapter director of the Educational Theatre Association of China, and drama education is what I now uphold as a remedy for our social and political climate.
It is drama and the arts that teach us what it is to be human.
“True growth and learning occurs in a state of discomfort. Unfortunately, we so rarely allow ourselves the opportunity to be uncomfortable thereby limiting our opportunities to evolve as individuals. I use theatre education to create these situations and shift the way my students approach their life. My drama exercises ask students to enquire into, engage with, and embody their beliefs while remaining empathetic to others and mediating with one another. That alters perspectives.
"The positive impact of drama is nothing new to us, so why is it not more widely evident in schools, universities and our society generally? The answer is stigma. Somewhere along the line someone got the idea that drama is only for the artistic, the weird, the poor, the less masculine and that it should be placed secondary to such subjects like maths and science.
“This could not be further from the truth. Whilst these subjects help us to sustain economies, it is drama and the arts that teach us what it is to be human. It teaches us sympathy, empathy, to relate and to seek out an interconnectedness with our enemies. And heaven knows, the world now should be seeking out commonality. If we truly want to impact the world for the better, I say give it more drama.”
Watch Philip's TEDx talk
This extract is taken from Philip's TEDx talk, What the World Needs Now is Drama, given at Simon Fraser University's TEDx conference in Vancover in November 2017.
My experiences at TEDx – the reaction
“I think we can all agree today that the world is kind of between a rock and a hard place when it comes to its social and political spheres…” As soon as I said this it felt like the silence in the room had audibly grown. Was the audience disagreeing with me or were they giving me their silent stamp of approval?
"I was standing on Simon Fraser University’s TEDx stage in Vancouver, Canada talking about how drama education eliminates fear and nurtures enquiry in its student yet all of a sudden doubt had settled in. The voice of my wonderful Nottingham tutor, Alan Dewar, was ringing in my ears: “Philip, I caution you against using phrases like ‘I think’ and ‘I am convinced’. Practise academic humility.” “Ah what the heck,” I thought, “This is not an academic paper. I have something to say and I am going to say it.” From that points onwards I gave my speech with hopeless abandon even though afterwards I did not escape scrutiny.
The immediate response to the talk was overwhelmingly positive with young people and parents coming up to me wanting to discuss how a drama programme could assist them with areas they desperately wanted to improve in.
Back in China some of my fellow educational professionals were less enthusiastic: “Are you saying we should simply abandon maths and science?” “Are you upholding drama as the ultimate answer to all of the social challenges facing society?” “This is a TED-talk. You just wanted to tell a sob story.” “No,” I would respond, “I just want to prioritise drama education prioritised.”
A CEO of a prominent media company phoned me up shortly after the talk and scheduled a meeting. “I watched your TEDx-talk. Inspiring but I know drama education is important. Tell me something new. I want you to speak at our upcoming education fair. Any ideas?”
My critics have widely fallen into two categories those who regard drama as inferior to other academic subjects and those who think its importance is already established. To the latter I would like to say: It might be recently much talked about but its importance has not widely crept into national and international curricula; Every school has not yet be mandated to have a theatre course available for its students. In many ways it feels like we have just started the fight and therefore I and many other theatre educators will not stop fearlessly talking about it and we will not stop advocating for it till the world is lifted out of that space between a rock and a hard place and we see happening to it what we see happen to our students every day where the shy becomes the bold, the passive the active, the arrogant the humbled, the rebel the one that reconciles, and most importantly the oppressed the enabled – the liberated."
Words: Philip J Oosthuizen (Education (International), 2017)
A theatre educator, perfomer and drama advocate, Philip has over seven years' teaching experience, with the last four spend in China where he has won three outstanding teacher awards and served for two years as the chapter director of the Educational Theatre Association of China. He is currently based in Wuxi and serves as a drama teacher, teacher trainer and boarding evening supervisor at the newly-opened Nanwai King's College School Wuxi.
You can find him on all social platforms using the handle @creativephilipj or visit his website: www.creativephilipj.com