In the Drama classroom it’s all about the practical work, but books have an important place in studying Drama. Ask a student which books they have used in their lessons they will probably list a number of plays from their work on scripted performance. The books created by practitioners are generally not accessed until students reach undergraduate study. Brecht, Artaud, Brook, Grotowski, Boal and Stanislavski all wrote about their work and methodologies, a resource that is often found summarised in books designed to support teachers and students for specific exam courses.
So why are these books not used as much in GCSE and A Level courses? I think it’s down to the context surrounding their creation. A key methodology often taught when studying Stanislavski is using emotional memory. He catalogued this idea in a text at the start of his career, immortalising the concept which developed into the basis for method acting, yet he himself rejected this methodology later in his career, developing the method of physical actions and writing about this at a later time. But this was a time rife with censorship in Russia under Stalin’s rule and often the ideas are hidden in plain sight; hiding from the censors yet informing the next generation of practitioners.
And where is the line of what ‘needs’ to be studied in GCSE Drama or A Level Performance subjects? What then becomes outside the remit of informing their practice and becomes (quite distant) reading around the subject? Is this a necessary shift in the academic study of Theatre Arts and, would this make Drama perceivably more “academic”? There’s a question I don’t have an answer for.
If the remit for reforming A Levels is to make students better prepared for university and undergraduate study, then maybe this shift towards more textbook use is needed. A student’s reliance on the first couple of results of a Google search needs to be deemed inadequate and reading direct sources from practitioners needs to become the standard. Students don’t need to be limited to the words actors say on the stage, they need exposure to the words of those who have influenced those actors and the theatre world at large.
Subject Specialist (Performing Arts) Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR)