Chamber Theatre with Dorothy Heathcote

He stood for a moment rigid before the door of the dead room. He inserted a key ... It was the first time he had been alone in a room with death. ... What lay wrapped in that sheet?

Dorothy Heathcote developed the use of Chamber Theatre, a method of using different texts as the basis for a performance. It links storytelling with showing. The words of a chosen text are spoken and, at the same time, demonstrated in action for onlookers.

Dorothy said: “The process fulfils the laws of theatre, using sound, silence, movement, stillness, light and dark.”

 

This video shows Dorothy working on Chamber Theatre with a group of teachers at a Mantle Network event in 2010. It features three different Chamber Theatre pieces, and also looks at different aspects of the system including the role of the narrator, and the use of individual and choral narration. Here are some notes by Dorothy on Chamber Theatre.

Chamber Theatre. Sometimes called Story Theatre.

Chamber Theatre format allow students to make literally texts “stand up” in dramatic action and “now immediate” time, as does theatre. However in Chamber Theatre students do not act as actors do in theatre plays. They demonstrate what the literary text states. This means that sometimes more than one person can demonstrate one moment in time, or more that one moment shown from different viewpoints.

The literary text and the dramatic demonstration lean into each other and support each form.

Chamber Theatre (Scroll)0001.jpg

A very important aspect of Chamber Theatre is “Who is telling this story or account?” Deciding this causes students to study the literature very closely - to the advantage of helping them explore the text deeply. Dorothy Heathcote

A Chamber Theatre Text

This is a Chamber Theatre text written by Dorothy herself. It’s set in Egypt and Dorothy imagined the scene as set near an oasis, with the ruins of a colossal statue nearby. In her text (see images) she has underlined “action” phrases.

She introduced the text at a teacher training event for the Mantle Network in 2008. She took delegates through planning a Mantle on Ancient Egypt; she envisaged the “scroll in the jar” referred to in the text would be found to contain the myth of Isis and Osiris, leading children to explore that story. She also intended the text to be used in conjunction with Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” You can see a video of the event; and below are some extracts from the text.

The Scroll in the Jar under the Statue Plinth

In the time of the birthing of the camels, the herders gathered beside the great legs of stone and collected fuel from the dried and withered stubble plants to build their fire. ... The time was close when the births would begin, so the men were careful to check each female to see how close to that time they were. One female gave cause for anxiety so the old herdsman was called to give advice. ...

The herdsmen came around to see and listen to his opinion. “She will labor hard over this one - we must stand her up.”

 

The men knew that within the jar there would be a written scroll so did not waste time in breaking the seal but ventured to the edge of the deep chamber.

The camel is raised. The men share tales of other hard births. A boy is listening, as he leans against the stone head.

As he sank down he saw that the great stone was indeed a face, so traced the carving deeply cut by the maker: great staring eyes, the cruel lips and sneer, the arrogant nose and the details of the curling beard and carved ear jewels. At this moment the camel groans and in agitation moved to lean against the stone. As he leapt backwards to avoid being crushed the head fell so that the visage was lost in a shower of sand. He moved to look to the camel, and as the men hurried from their fire to assist, the boy saw a great sealed jar had lain beneath the head within a stone chamber.

One descended down the steep steps and found within, painted upon the walls of rock, flowers, birds and creatures with writings which of course they were unable to read. They told the boy to lift the great jar and carry it to safety, and at a later time when all the camels had given birth and the young were strong to walk, they departed their place leaving a great pile of stones, to warn those who would come. ...

 

On arriving among their people, the great jar was surrendered to the elders who broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. Meanwhile the camel owners were summoned to collect their beasts and their young, little realizing that the great jar would cause much change.

- Dorothy Heathcote, to use with Shelley's “Ozmandias” [sic] sonnet. June 14th 2008