‘The Drama Maze’ by Amanda Cumberbatch

I’ve been watching one of my Mustardseed colleagues conduct her classes for many weeks now, I must confess, wanting to make connections between our two contexts. She teaches the Children’s Theatre 1 (ages 4-5) and I teach the ‘tweens and teens’ (Youth Theatre 2 – ages 11-14) and, in spite of my post-graduate drama education training, I remain amazed by how complicated their physical and social development is.
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Aunty Rashida in class

In improv’ work, I find myself yelling more and more, “too much adult content, maan!”; and managing and guiding the social/anti-social behaviours of adolescents is sometimes like devising strategy to crush fanatics – anarchists (!). So, I’ve been observing awesome Aunty Rashida, her totally great teaching assistants and the super smallies, contentedly making sense of what children learn when they do drama.

Easy research, as Rashida’s classes are always well structured and well managed. I enjoy her careful style of delivery and that of her TA’s – one of whom is our Resident Choreographer, Aunty Nicollette. It is ‘do drama’, as activity is the beating heart of it. From warm up to cool down, the little ones are fully engaged in doing/making, reflecting, refining, and doing again. While creating rhyme and movement to learn about shapes, I observe them happily wrapped up in intense reflexive activity, one that provides opportunities to sharpen the creative brain. They research and reflect, invent and innovate, experiment, rehearse and refine, solve problems both individually and while working in teams, showcase and perform at each one’s best level. It is a constant unfolding of the imagination where every time they showcase they are better.

 

Well, I contemplated my ‘tweens’. Recently, continuing my team-building efforts (some new kids to integrate; some old challenges persist), I instructed them to create an obstacle course with entrance and exit for a blind navigator – everyone gets a turn. What started out as a simple box became, by the third turn, a maze convoluted by roundabouts and dead ends. To raise the apprehension stakes, one dedicated herself the “dead end specialist”, and another a “human object” in the maze. By the fifth, they were creating a labyrinth using practically every chair in the auditorium, with three of them taking in the aerial view from the balcony, communicating what this vantage revealed to the other “engineers” below. I was gobsmacked by the nearly flawless teamwork. The unsuspecting navigator, in early turns, was seated away blindfolded, hearing of the challenges that lay in store and unable to see them. By the fourth, he was taken (blindfolded) on a guided tour around the outskirts of the room, specifically to disorient him, and then brought to the maze entrance and left to his own devices.

 

Like with the little ones, I was impressed by the same – progressed – development of the creative faculties, and the level of complexity they quickly became skilled at working through. Everyone who played made it through his/her own custom-designed maze, including my most special student. One child roundly objected, and refused to participate in the game – but that is the subject of another story. Evil geniuses.

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