Drama as "an exploration of bondings"
At a teacher training event in 1992, Dorothy Heathcote defined the “core” of all theatre and drama work, as she saw it:
In the theatre [and drama work], the meaning that emerges is basically about bondings. It's amazing value is, that you can see it - and whether you realise it or not is not relevant - that what you are seeing, is relationships expressed; and relationships are always related with bondings (not bondage). And that the amazing range and variety of theatre, and indeed all drama, is all always in the end, an exploration and exposition of bondings. ... That is it's amazing, absorbing quality, and why it can never, ever repeat itself; because bondings don't. And these bondings are always on the way somewhere: some bondings are being reforged, some built, some lost and so on. But they are always in process of change. What the theatre does - what the playwright does ... the playwright is always highly selective of which moments … through the action and interaction of persons in space-time, engage you with those bondings. That's the first thing.
The second thing about it is, that all those bondings are expressed through a limited palette, but the limited palette is unlimited in its variety; and it is based upon “sign” - that hard-edged “sign” – which is so complex, and is forward-moving all the time. People are forwarding it. They may be still at this moment, being responsive, so they're not necessarily never still when I say forwarding it.
And this is what it's about, then. And it is … forged and understood in the process of it. It is never understood through talking about it. It is partially comprehended through talking about it, but you'll never understand it until you meet it, come to grips with the bonding, through the act - through the doing-thing.
(From the unpublished transcript of an event at Eaton Hall, 10 May 1992.)
Creating "bondings": individual and communal image-making
Dorothy suggested that young people are always deeply immersed in a drama, when “the mind’s image begins to affect” how they are feeling about “what's going on here”. (1)
She recognised the importance of building mental images – both individually and collectively. Indeed, the interweaving of individual and collective image-making was a key element or “building block” in her work - and a means of creating "bondings."
For example: in 1984, Dorothy led a drama with some trainee teachers, who were in the frame of “witches.”
At one point, the participants each drew an image of our underground coven. The individual drawings were then put together to create a “communal” image.
As “witches,” they were being hunted and persecuted by enemies. They each wrote an account describing a moment when they knew they were being pursued. Some of Dorothy’s MA students who were watching, then read the accounts out. Everyone heard their own account read out – but it now formed part of a “communal” image-making, creating a sense of our “shared experience” of being hunted.
Dorothy then asked the participants to take a position when they were feeling at their lowest. She read out extracts from the accounts they had written – and asked them to groan in response to the lines they heard. One piece mentioned being hunted by dogs; this got a strong response from the group, and so she repeated this text several times.
This alternation of individual and collective image-making can also be observed in the drama, “The Dreamer” – described in Betty Wagner’s book, Drama as a Learning Medium.
The children chose to be members of a crew on board a sailing ship. They named the ship “The Dreamer”; and it seems Dorothy saw the potential for the name to symbolise their own “dreaming” or hopes as crew members.
At one point, as the ship was leaving port, she asked them to stand still, and focus their attention on the figurehead of the ship, which represented the “dreamer”.
“You stand there and watch that Dreamer [the figurehead], because it's gonna’ be a long time before you get back to this place. … As you stand knowing the boat is being towed and it's not its own ship yet, note what you are thinking; out of what you're thinking might come a glimpse of what you're feeling.”
Then, she invited the group to go to the trainee teachers who were observing the session, who would write down what they said about their thoughts and feelings.
She then said, “board the ship and we'll hear all these things that people were thinking and feeling, right?” As the children imagined the boat being towed out to sea, they heard the adults reading out their thoughts and feelings. (2)
As in the “witches” drama, they were hearing their own words fed back to them - but now, as part of a collective “image-making.” Dorothy was highlighting the significance of this moment for them, both individually and as a group; and building their emotional and imaginative investment in the (shared) idea, of setting off on a journey in pursuit of a “dream.”
(1) In 'Dorothy Heathcote interviewed by David Davis', 2D magazine, 4:3
(2) In Wagner, p.17-18