"Frame" or Point-of-View
"Frame: the establishment and development of a point of view reflecting the interests and concerns of people who enter a social event. In M of E the frame of entry will be that of 'experts' who are running some kind of establishment, thus creating a group culture of standards and skills, eventually reflecting distinctive moral and cultural values."
Dorothy Heathcote produced this chart based on Erving Goffman’s Frame Analysis.
The chart shows different points-of-view that participants in a drama might take - the “perspective” from which they enter the event. They may be direct participants, or they may assume a point-of-view of “responsibility”, as guide, agent, recorder, artist, etc.
Young people in Mantle of the Expert do not simply take one point-of-view – but rather, the frame shifts from episode to episode. There is a huge range of “thinking and doing tasks”. It is “like using a kaleidoscope and shaking it up to make a different lens view” (1)
This is clear from the account she gave of a plane crash drama, with a group of young people in Alberta, Canada.
The participants were framed as engineers testing electrical equipment, who overheard a message from a plane in distress. They created a “plan” of the crash site, marking damaged trees, bits of wreckage, suitcases etc., spread over a vast area. They also drew a plan of the plane itself.
Biographies of the passengers could be built up by changing the group’s frame to that of researchers, looking into the kind of customers who use the flight service on Fridays, for the benefit of the airline. Dorothy in role as librarian could offer them clues as to the type of passengers from the company records – and suggest that from them, she is in sure they can build biographies of the passengers.
The group made up envelopes with things found in the pockets of people in the crash. As "forensic experts" (i.e. in another "frame"}, they then tried to match the "evidence" with what they knew of the passengers.
She played the tape again of the distress message from the plane – and asked them to write down the last thoughts of each passenger, next to their mark on the map.
She then set up a “training room” for stewardesses, preparing to deal with emergencies. "Models" of passenger reactions were created – one child showed "hysteria": he could jump up and portray this, without anyone laughing … . She could check the reaction of the stewardesses – “Is your heart beating?”
We can see that all of these different “frames” were ways of entering, imaginatively, into the "event” - and created a different "lens" for viewing it.
There is sometimes an assumption that a point of view that is more “distanced” from the actual event, is designed to lead to a colder, more “rational” attitude. However, this is what Dorothy said in a training event for teachers at Eaton Hall, in May 1992:
I’m going to demonstrate how when I’m looking at material, I begin to think in terms of which “frame” will get the children closer to the event. Now in the beginning, when you look at “frame,” people think I’m taking children away from the event, like – “How would you get them anywhere near the Good Samaritan , if you were dealing with [running] a hospice?” … Of course you would get very close to the Good Samaritan.
You are actually wanting people to consider the nature of taking enormous risks, getting rid of prejudice, and helping a seeming enemy – and possibly being deeply endangered because of it. That’s what the Good Samaritan might be about. So it doesn’t matter which frame you chose, it’s chosen to get nearer to it. not further away. The one [frame where] they’ll be furthest away on, is frame number one [participant in the event], where the children act the story. They will never get into it that way, not in a hundred years, not efficiently. But they could be into it just like that [snaps her fingers], if they were running a hospice, and choosing the logo… All of my life, I’ve been accused of taking children away from the real “now” events of the world, because people don’t hear the internal coherence of the journey one makes with it.
In this video, Dorothy Heathcote discusses “frame distance.” She notes that. according to Goffman, "all events are 'framed' according to the 'window' that you look at them from; so you put a frame round. And if you talk about them, that “frame” is in the way you talk.'
From: Making Drama Work: Curriculum Matters”, Tape 8 (University of Newcastle, 1991)
We have created this PDF of Dorothy’s notes on "Frame Distance." These notes contain explanations of the different frames, and concrete examples of drama work.
They were prepared for a course at Birmingham Polytechnic (now BCU). They were donated by Geoff Readman to the Dorothy Heathcote Archive. Click on the icon to access the file.