colleague, Marni Baker, and I had discussed the possibility of starting a drama group, not
as a means of producing a play, but rather as a way of providing students with an
environment in which they could experience new and different feelings and be able to talk
about them. We wanted to have the students engaged in activities that promoted
risk-taking, shock, self-doubt, and fear. These activities would be followed by small
group debriefings during which the causes of these feelings would be analyzed and future
situations that might bring on these same feelings would be projected. Although we had
little previous experience in drama work, we felt we could develop a workshop format that
would bring about a change in the students communication styles, thereby resulting
in greater student self-confidence.
Over the winter break we developed a workshop in which drama techniques and activities
were used to facilitate students self-expression (see Appendix 1). We designed a ten-day 20-hour intensive workshop,
based on the following considerations.
1. We wanted to establish a safe and familiar environment in which the students would
eventually feel comfortable enough to honestly and openly discuss what was going on in the
workshop. Therefore, we incorporated exercises that we could do everyday to build group
identity and solidarity.
2. We wanted to have a careful progression of activities that would build on each other
and that would gradually increase the communication risks we were asking the students to
take. We wanted students involved in new and challenging activities from the first day,
but we didnt want to lose anybody along the way by asking them to do something they
werent ready to do.
3. After all activities, we wanted discussions that allowed students to react to the
feelings and ideas generated by their participation and to the intercultural implications
inherent in many of the activities.
We decided that each day would always consist of the following progression of
These activities promote three kinds of student behavior. First, they introduce students
to the process of taking risks and make them analyze the effects of these risks on their
physical, psychological, and cultural identity. Secondly, the activities contribute to,
encourage and build group identity, and finally, they allow students the opportunity to
discuss a variety of intercultural issues.
The daily "movement warm-up" consists of movements that allowed the participants
to physically prepare for the day. We include yoga breathing exercises to help focus the
concentration needed for the days activities, and we make music an integral part of
Through movement activities students learn strategies for ex-pressing communicative
meaning through body language. These activities range from simple physical actions to more
complex expressions of emotion and character. The activities are performed individually as
well as in small and large group formats.
The voice warm-up routine gives the participants an environment in which they are expected
to be loud and take risks with the sound of their own voices. It also prepares them
physically to use their voices effectively by focusing on skills, such as breathing,
posture, and projection. These activities are absolutely critical for students in order to
make the transition to the next set of activities.
Voice activities In this final section of the progression,
students learn how to creatively express their ideas, emotions, and cultural perspective
using English. Activities range from improvisation to the production and performance of
short student-generated scripts.
We decided to hold the workshop in the schools large gymnasium, which is equipped
with a stage, and provides enough space and an atmosphere befitting drama activities.
Music, ranging from classical to ethnic to hard rock, is used extensively throughout the
workshop to set moods and create a comfortable environment.
We defined our own roles as that of "coaches," responsible for pacing the
activities and any needed timekeeping. We also have to be aware of students feelings
and emotions as they engage in the various new and different activities. At the same time
we encourage the students to articulate their feelings and emotions in the post-activity
discussions. There are always two coaches, which give us the flexibility we need when
working with the students in various groupings.
Depending on the days activities, we invite other native-English speakers to
participate, and to a lesser degree, to facilitate the activities and discussions. Prior
to the workshop, we meet with outside participants to provide them with the overall and
daily objectives and to give them a brief training on how to encourage discussion without
stifling student participation.
A typical day
A typical day illustrates how these components come together and build on each other.
In "Pulsing," the risk taking activity, students sit in a circle holding
hands and create an electric current by receiving a quick squeeze from the person on their
right and simultaneously squeezing the hand of the person on their left. We direct the
participants to concentrate on a color during the activity, and afterwards, poll them to
see if one color prevailed through mental communication. In the follow-up discussion, we
investigate the following key words and concepts: cooperation, concentration, working
together, group energy, and personal space.
After the movement warm-up (See Appendix 2),
we begin the first of three movement activities. The first activity is loosely based on
Labans theory (Evans and Smith 1992) which states that all movement can be broken
down into six simple actions: pulling, pushing, punching, wringing, smoothing, and
floating. For each of these actions, the participants experiment with real objects, then
try to recreate the motion without objects. While the students are performing the action
with the real object, the coaches, using Labans typology, direct the students
attention to the details of each movement. During the pantomime, the coaches provide
assistance and encouragement by continually asking the students to relate the practice to
The second activity, "The Human Machine," extends the students
experimentation with the expression of simple actions through movements. In small groups,
students connect individual movements to create a machine in which all members play an
integral part. Each movement is accompanied by a machine sound, such as a hiss, plop,
crunch, and so forth. These machines practice moving in all directions while maintaining
their interconnected actions and sounds. The activity culminates in a war of machines. Two
machines are directed toward each other on a crash course with no expected outcome. The
results can be anything from some machines passing through each other with no
disintegration to one or both machines falling apart. Post-activity discussion again
focuses on the concepts of cooperation, concentration, and working together. Students
discuss how the machine models imitated interaction within and between cultures.
The final movement activity explores the differences in greetings from culture to
culture and their expressions through verbal language, gestures, and personal space
values. First, the coaches model greetings from various cultures; some may be familiar,
while others may be quite new and possibly strange. For each model, students addressed
these questions: "What was the verbal greeting?" "What gestures did they
use?" "What is the personal space value?" Then students model what they
feel is a typical greeting in their culture and discuss the same questions. In the final
part of the activity termed, "Interplanetary Greetings," students in small
groups generate verbal greetings, gestures, and personal space values for their own, and
During post-activity discussion students begin what should be an ongoing analyses of
the intercultural causes of miscommunication and culture shock in all areas of
communication and how both may affect students as they travel or study abroad.
After the voice warm-up (See Appendix 3),
students conclude the days workshop with a voice activity during which students
deliver short dialogs at different volumes. To help the students achieve this, we use the
entire area of the gym. First, we divide the participants into pairs, give them short
dialogs, and place them in the center of the gym. Then as each pair finishes their
reading, they take three steps back and repeat the dialog until they have reached the
sides of the gym. Refinement of intonation, stress, character, and emotion comes later in
the workshop. Each day as new elements are added, old elements are reworked in different
Halfway through the workshop, students get into working groups to write and practice
short scenes. As coaches, we offer advice, but leave the bulk of the work up to the
students as we want to observe the personal growth that is taking place in them. The
workshop concludes in a final performance of all the group scenes.
We were greatly pleased with the results of the workshop. Comments in the post-workshop
evaluations indicated that the goals of the workshop were achieved. Many students
indicated a greater awareness of their communication styles. Students also wrote that they
had been able to experience new and different feelings in a secure environment that gave
them the support they needed to talk about these experiences. As one student succinctly
put it, "I learned how I should express my feeling in English."
More excitingly, we believe that the benefits of the workshop carried over into the
students study abroad experience. While we admit a more rigorous study is needed,
the e-mail communications we have received from the students studying abroad seem to
indicate that these students were better prepared to cope with the intricacies of living
in new and different cultures. We are eagerly looking forward to our next workshop and
follow-up research. (Based on these outcomes.)
Evans, C. and L. Smith. 1992. Acting and the theatre. Tulsa, OK: EDC Publishing.