Dorothy Heathcote saw the need for a “core” to drama work, to maintain a sense of “internal coherence.”
The essential core, as far as I understand it, is that nothing in any developmental stage [in a drama] shall make the class feel what they've just done is now cast aside, and we're on to something else. So keeping the class comfortably extending itself towards the next stage, without any confusion, would be first [goal]. Around that will come: setting up the external development that keeps the centre the same. [On this level] I've got choices. …
In 1966, everywhere I went, everybody wanted the Battle of Hastings. And everywhere I went, I resisted “sword clashing upon sword,” because I didn't feel it should be treated so lightly, especially in Newcastle. And so I invented hundreds of ways of giving people the Battle of Hastings, the feeling there were there, without “clashing sword upon sword.” And I remember one group for a whole month walked with [King] Harold from Stamford Bridge to Hastings. And so every time we met, which is two or three times a week I came in to do the Battle of Hastings with them, “sword clashing upon sword” was felt to have happened; but it was never at Hastings, and it was never “sword clashing upon sword.” And so the internal coherence was always:
- “On the long march south” (which was driven - because he got them there very fast, considering they walked, and they were already weary from the battle of Stamford Bridge);
- “The preserving of yourself for the great fight again”;
- “The regathering of energies”;
- “The re-acquainting yourself with the feeling of: who is my brother?”;
- “The handling of certain treasured possessions like the brooch your mother gave you to hold your cloak together”; and so on.
Now, always I had to choose between: in this lesson, do they need much more action, because they had what they would feel to be a deeper, passive lesson, the one before it. So that's where my choices were always arranged. They require the feeling of much more action, so I had to invent a lesson that still preserved “the gathering together for war”; the understanding and deeper recognition of what this might mean - you know, “There's no ploughing again” …
My choices are very open on what I choose to be the next stage. Sometimes I can see it; the children giving it to me. I'm always inventing to suit them ... But the central purpose still would hold.
And of course if somebody said - and actually they didn't in this particular case - but if somebody had said, “When are we ever gonna get to, you know - to get a fight?”; I’d have said: “You can have one tomorrow.” And I would still have been saying: “But you will not pretend 'sword clashing upon sword'; because blood flows in war, and no way ..."
But what we might have is a “game” element in the next one, because, you know, they need it ... And all the time you're running through the variables. This one: the understanding will come more through the talk. This one: the understanding will come more through the silence. You’re into theatre. You're very much into theatre: “When men speak of us, in times to come; when our bones lie in the earth wherever they fell, what would we most wish them to understand?” - you go straight to Level 4 [theatre], because you make a demonstration of what we wish you to understand at this hour. And you’re into theatre, whether you like it or not. You have to be, because you're asking for the expression of meaning to somebody, not “living through” something. … If you just ask the question’ “If all your mothers could hear you now, what would you most wish them to hear you thinking?” [It’s] a piece of theatre, that …
(From the unpublished transcript of an event at Eaton Hall, 9 May 1992.)
In this video (below) from 1984, Dorothy talks about the importance of "sequencing."
She was working with some boys on a drama which centred on a group of ancient trees in a village. The children had a task, to sort out accommodation in the village for an expected influx of visitors. But as Dorothy explained: “I can't introduce them to accommodation problems if they don't know the limits of the accommodation available in the village.” This was a question of “sequencing”: there has to be a “journey” towards knowledge, and steps along the way.
Source: “Dorothy Heathcote at Four Oaks” video (1984).