Daniel P. Stowell and Professor George Nelson, Theatre and Media Arts
Gordon B. Hinckley, current president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently stated, “The schooling of our spirits is as important as the schooling of our minds, if not more important”(67). Hinckley here underlines the importance and reason for this study. Religious studies should have all the benefits dramatic elements provide. The purpose of this research project is to explore the possible effects of infusing theatrical or dramatic elements in the Seminary/Institute classroom. I have observed classes, interviewed a number of teachers, and researched the elements of theatre I thought the most pertinent to this portion of my project.
Dramatic elements have been a part of the educational process in all societies. As Oscar Brockett relates in his text History of the Theatre, “almost all human transactions [are] basically performative – as enactments of relationships with specific purposes”(6). So when a teacher gets up in front of the class to present something, they are in actuality performing. Therefore, they are taking part in a dramatically based element of classroom life.
Each teacher’s ability or tendency to accept and or be able to apply outwardly dramatic elements in their class varies as widely as their personalities. I took a survey of forty-five teachers with important results for this study. I found that most of the teachers would love a study on using theatrical elements in their classroom. However, in observing different teachers for this study in their classrooms, it quickly became apparent that many teachers would not readily accept such an extroverted concept. Thus, I’ve decided to focus this portion of my study specifically on what I have termed intrinsically dramatic elements.
Intrinsically dramatic elements are structures few would recognize right away as dramatic. My original intent was to encourage teachers to become more dramatic in their classroom, by doing role-plays, etc. However, I’ve found that to be less potentially helpful for most teachers and students. I will touch upon two intrinsically dramatic elements in the remainder of this report. The first is the teacher as director. The second element deals with Aristotle’s storytelling model.
Lund Johnson, an area coordinator for the Church Educational System, says that God is “the Great Director.” Jeff Bauserman, seminary teacher for seven years, said that as he matured in his own teaching, he turned from a “disseminator” of knowledge to a “facilitator.” The way William Ball describes the director’s role is very similar to Bauserman’s description of effective mature teaching in seminary. According to Ball “a director is there to make things happen efficiently, swiftly, and deftly. To make himself a star at everyone’s time, energy and spirit is simply folly”(132). Seminary teacher Mike Moore quoted Roger Manning as encouraging teachers to “be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”
Robb Jones, trainer at Brigham Young University’s Seminary Training Center, described three modes of classroom interaction in a recent interview. They are “One talk, All talk, and No talk.” Bauserman described how he began his teaching career using almost entirely “One Talk” mode.
One Talk is when the teacher basically lectures as the disseminator of knowledge. He feels that his teaching has improved greatly as he has learned to use the other modes of interaction. As we discussed this concept of the teacher as director, he felt that the presentation of these concepts could help teachers mature in their teaching just as he has. As Jones described, “the teacher becomes the director” when they realize the inherently theatrical nature of the classroom setting.
Aristotle’s model for stories includes exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement. As the classroom is a theatre of sorts, this same model could be applied to the Seminary/Institute classroom. Bauserman mentioned how his supervisors have stressed the importance of teaching students principles found in the scriptures. He described how when he teaches about principles of the gospel, it naturally follows this Aristotelian pattern. If this model of building to climaxes were taught to teachers, they could teach more effectively.
These two examples are not meant to be an exhaustive list of the elements of drama and theatre that could be infused into the Seminary/Institute classroom. In observing seminary classrooms, I found students to be more engaged and active when teachers observe these two principles. From reading and observing and discussing Seminary/Institute, I have concluded that there are many other ways to improve upon Seminary/Institute instruction through the use of these and other principles of drama. There is much room within this project for other topics and findings.
I plan on expanding the results from this research to a more inclusive list of helpful dramatic elements. Then, I plan on working with teachers in further developing the concepts. The eventual culmination of this project will be proposing a class on drama in the Seminary/Institute classroom at the C.E.S. conference held at Brigham Young University.
All interviewed expressed a positive feeling for the project, but one comment about this project was particularly inspiring for me. Vincent Bath, a seminary teacher in Washington showed his excitement for the C.E.S. class when he said “it would make a wonderful presentation.”
- Ball, William. A Sense of Direction. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1984
- Bath, Vincent. Personal interview. 25 July 2001.
- Bauserman, Jeff. Personal interview. 22 July 2001.
- Brockett, Oscar. History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1991.
- Hinckley, Gordon. Standing for Something. New York: Times Books, 2000.
- Johnson, Lund. Personal interview. 27 June 2001.
- Jones, Robb. Personal interview. 22 June 2001.
- Moore, Mike. Personal interview. 25 July 2001.