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Process Drama. unfolding experience Pamela Bowell & Brian Heap AATE Conference 2013 Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Process Drama - what is it?. a genre of drama applied in an educational context essentially improvised in nature

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process drama

Process Drama

unfolding experience

Pamela Bowell & Brian Heap

AATE Conference 2013

Bethesda, Maryland, USA


Process Drama - what is it?

  • a genre of drama applied in an educational context
  • essentially improvised in nature
  • the external audience is absent but the internal audience is essential
  • the teacher works in role within the drama

The Cornerstones


Symbolic Representation of Life Experience

Learning in Context

Ownership of Learning


Learning About &

Learning Through

Drama Form


Both always present

Both aspects of learning always available


Principles of Planning

2 Context

“Which particular fictional circumstances will be created by the drama to explore the theme?”

1 Theme or Learning Area

“With which area of human experience do I want the pupils to engage and on which specific aspect of this do I want to focus their learning?”

3 Roles

“Who are the pupils and the teacher going to be in the drama?”

High Quality Drama

High Quality Learning

6 Strategies

“Which ways of working will I use?

In which combination?

For what purpose?”

4 Frame

“Which viewpoint will the roles have in order to create tension in the drama? How distanced will the roles need to be?”

5 Sign

“What artifacts, personal items, sounds, images and so on will I need to bring significance to the events of the drama?”


Types of Strategy

  • Context Building
  • Narrative Building
  • Poetic or Deepening
  • Reflective

Teacher as Artist

Quadripartite Thinking or …

the WorzelGummidge effect!

  • Self-spectator/actor
  • Self-spectator/playwright
  • Self-spectator/director
  • Self-spectator/teacher

Learners as Artists

Quadripartite Response

  • Self-spectator/actor
  • Self-spectator/playwright
  • Self-spectator/director
  • Self-spectator/learner












The Spiral of Creative Exchange

Teacher/Facilitator – quadripartite thinkingPupil/Participant – quadripartite response

Self-Spectator Playwright– helps craft

narrative – story unfolds and carries the learning

Self-SpectatorPlaywright– learns how to contribute to the extension/deepening of the play they are in and to feel sufficiently empowered to initiate further developments of narrative – feeds back to teacher …

  • …who is challenged to establish consensus on the next step and feed back to the pupils

Self-SpectatorDirector– steers participants to learning through best dramatic structure

Self-SpectatorDirector– learns by acquiring knowledge of the art form it (and of content) by engaging in and applies skills of directing to fictional circumstances – feeds back to the teacher …

… who is further challenged to weave pupil response into drama and feed back to pupils

Self-Spectator Actor– learns how to respond and adjust behaviour within fictional circumstances, demonstrating behaviour – feeds back to the teacher …

Self-SpectatorActor– gives a performance which engages, beguiles, supports and challenges the pupils

… who is further challenged to respond with her performance (and possibly new set of negotiations) and feed back to participants

Self-SpectatorLearner– makes sense of what is going on and refines knowledge, skills, attitudes and, in being transformed, feeds something of this back to the teacher through performance …

Self-SpectatorTeacher– holding everything together –

the real context of pupils, classroom, school

and curriculum

… who is further challenged to evaluate, extend that transformation and feed back to participants

(Bowell and Heap 2005)


Teacher InputParticipant Input

1. Pre-action, teacher decides learning area, context, roles, frame, signs and opening strategies

2. In ‘now time’, children develop roles and context through action and dialogue whilst ‘digging the hole’

4. Children move the narrative forward by responding in role as the workers to the old lady’s questions about what they are doing in front of her house.

3. Takes on board what children have created and weaves it into her dialogue as she enters into the drama in role as the old lady.

6. Workers discuss, negotiate &create solution to the problem – they search for & ‘find’ a plank of wood and put it over the hole so that lady can cross.They explain that they can remove it & carry on digging until she comes back when they will replace the plank so she can get to her house and feed the cat.

5. Responds to workers’ answers and introduces tension – the hungry cat – and challenges them to resolve the dilemma.

7. Old lady supports the discussion and calls encouragement for the search but does not too readily agree to cross the plank. She is concerned about her safety. What will the workers do to help her?

8. They decide they will hold her hand as she crosses.

10. Workers decide to demonstrate and improvise this as the old lady watches from the ‘other side of the hole’.

9. Old lady is unsure.

11. Old lady is persuaded and with some wobbling crosses the plank holding the hands of the workers.

12. Two workers decide to accompany her to the shop whilst the others continue to dig.

13. Shoppers return – workers carrying the shopping.

14. Workers at the hole replace plank and assist the old lady across with the shopping.

15. Old lady says big thank you and invites them in for a cup of tea.

16. Workers discuss this and decide to accept. They down tools and cross the plank and the drama ends with a tea party and the cat being fed.


Exquisitely social creatures …

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)


Process drama …