Drama is “a shift in the head”

Dorothy Heathcote argued that drama, at its core, simply involves a “shift in the head.” Seeing drama in this way, she argued, overcomes false and crude divisions between “process-based” and “theatre-based” work, “improvisation” and “text,” and so on.

Drama is, in fact, a “depicted world, which offers you many kinds of power, with which to help children learn”.

At the one end, you can set up the “depicted world” and call it “theatricals” - a very laudable thing to do: to create a depicted world for observers to come and partake of. It is also an aspect of the “depicted world,” if I say to a child: “How will I get to Wellington from here?” And the child has to somehow conjure “as if it were,” that I were going [for real]. Now he may do me a map: “This is how you get to Wellington.” A six-year old might offer me almost magical power: “Well actually, what you do is, you go outside, and something comes along and takes you there.” But they're all depicted worlds.

Now it's this fantastic range of the depicted world that makes it so important, I think, that at this stage in our educational system, we see it as a valuable tool, if we can learn to use the different layers of the depicted world, the “as if it were.” Because the depicted world is not the elaborate process of necessarily making big theatricals. The depicted world is only a shift in the head. That's all it is. The elaborate procedures then follow when you seek to explain that depicted world. So it's only a shift in the head that makes me say: “I could be [someone who, for example, has arthritis] … And if the shift in the head works, I am, for the time.

Now it seems to me this utter simple notion, that we have this amazing gift, to shift in the head, frees teachers immediately of all these daft paddock-forming ideas, that if you do this kind of work, you must be antithetic to this kind of work; if you do theatricals, all other things [i.e. types of drama work] must be wrong. …

The “depicted world” is “always distorted truth – productively distorted truth, to bring something into meaning”; and “the mind boggles at the range of depicted worlds we can enter children into...”

The implication, surely, is that we need to find ways to make the “shift in the head” happen – whatever form we are using. As Dorothy said elsewhere: the drama starts when the shift occurs, and “the mind’s image begins to affect” how you are feeling about “what's going on here”. (1)

(From: Dorothy Heathcote Talks to Teachers: The Depicted World. New Zealand Dept. of Education, 1978; except [1] in "Dorothy Heathcote interviewed by David Davis", 2D magazine, 4:3.)

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