I’m not a teacher. Like lots of people, I do my thing and sometimes I pass on my thing. In my case that’s usually through workshops or what I hazily call ‘sessions’.
This week I read this
‘Samten, one of the attendants of my master, was a wonderful monk who was kind to me during my childhood… Every day my master would give teachings and initiations and lead practices and rituals. Toward the end of the day, I would gather together my friends and act out a little theatrical performance, reenacting the morning’s events. It was Samten who would always lend me the costumes my master had worn in the morning.’
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Sogyal Rinpoche, a little boy being trained in a Tibetan monastery, rounds up his day by acting it out, imitating his teacher and hero, doing what he’d seen and heard and done for real earlier. That, I thought, is brilliant.
I imagined school children in our schools, towards the end of the school day, acting out the events of their day like that, the bits that have stuck with them, that need revisiting, wearing their teacher’s clothes. What an excellent and anarchic way of processing the day, I thought. I’d make that happen if I were in charge, I thought.
Then I thought briefly about how we all retell our days to someone, if we can. ‘How was your day?’, ‘Had a good day?’, ‘What did you do today?’. But acting it out? That’s a whole new something, related but not the same. If you don’t get to wear your boss’ clothes it’s not the same. Dressing up, becoming another character in your own story, and acting it out for one another – we should do it.
Then I thought about The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter by Vivian Gussin Paley.
‘Here is Arlene’s story:
There was a big monster. Then the baby said, “Oh, no!” And the daddy said, “What’s the matter baby?” And the sister said, “What’s the matter baby?” And the mother said, “What’s the matter baby?” And they were home.’
I recommend it. She talks about making time and space in the school day when the children can choose to act out a story that they have in their imagination, with a cast that they choose from their friends, in a way that pleases them. It’s theirs. It allows the child to say what the child has to offer about whatever is important to the child. The book is about more than that, but that’s what I was remembering from it this week. It has shaped the way I’ve worked.
Then, because The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter lead me to them, I thought about Scene & Heard, a children’s charity in Somers Town, in London. Here’s the nub of it: children write short plays in their own words, to their own satisfaction, about whatever they wish. They don’t do the writing writing. An adult acts as their amanuensis. The child unspools their words from their imagination and given proper weight. ‘Have I written that down how you want it? Let’s read it back. Happy with that?’ is about the extent of our, the adult’s, job. I’m simplifying a little.
Eventually the plays are staged by (volunteering) professional actors, and professional directors, designed and teched and produced by professionals and watched by a paying and genuinely enthusiastic audience, only the minority of whom are the children’s relatives. It’s not the point of what I’m trying to get across, but the plays work. They are a proper theatrical experience. I’ll not start on that, here.
The actor must stick absolutely to the intentions and words of the child playwrite. (Believe me, the syntax can be extraordinarily, anarchically freewheeling. It’s no cakewalk for the actors). Each child sits on a special chair to watch their work performed (they are expected to go to every perfomance in a 4 night run) and the they are asked onto the stage to accept the applause. There’s more to how it nurtures the children, but that’s the nub. They get seen and heard. It’s good, isn’t it?
All I’m doing is writing down a thread I followed this week. I haven’t got to the end of it, but I’m following it to the sorts of acting and playing and re-framing of our just-lived life that go on, and that would be going on if I were in charge.