Real and Imagined Objects in Drama

Dorothy Heathcote once discussed the differences between using real and imagined objects in drama:

So objects have two uses, and they change according to how the lesson works. If I wanted for the children, for the first time in their lives - in a drama with me, I mean; I don't know what else in their lives has happened - to feel in terrible danger, searching a town [at night], I obviously need to conjure dark and the hidden. To conjure dark and the hidden for the children, they need that which is theirs. [I.E., an imagined lantern, which they can see with their “drama eyes.”] They do not need given [real] lanterns.

They need this [holding an imaginary lantern and shining it into in dark corners] – and this [moving the lantern to light up another corner] – and it doesn’t matter if they lose it, and find it a bit later on. We’re not into “acting” like that. It’s what feeds the image for the child; and keeps on saying, “There's danger”; “There’s a dark alley there…”. To build Edinburgh at night [in their minds].

But when we say, “Can we just have a look at how it was when you searched?” - that's when you need a lantern given, because we [the spectators] must be helped to see it, without the child feeling they’ve got to now act it. That's when a kid will feel silly, with everybody watching. But a real lantern is a demonstration. He doesn't have to act it, it's there. Does that make sense?

So objects are constantly being shifted: when you need the actuality, when you need to take the stone [handing over a real object]; or when you need to say: “Hold the stone…” [handing over an imaginary one] - it's according to, what helps the child not feel stared at; but helps the child recognise the self-spectator: “I see what I am doing. I am seen doing.” ... This is the nature of drama, so the children may develop from this object, into all the world we are trying to make. All the world of Rome [or whatever the drama is].

[From an unpublished transcript of the Interactive Research Conference at UCE, 1996. Photo from the same event, shows Dorothy holding an imaginary lantern.] 

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