Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Theatre in Education (TIE) - What do you think it is, and what could it be?

Jenny Smith - 14 January 2017




Session called by Jenny Smith
Attending session:
Roxana Haines, Alan Mandel Butler, Harriet Usher, Debbie Bucella, Katerina Pushkin, Sarah Levinsky, Ginnie Stephens, Anthony Haddon, John Hazlett Dickenson, Connor Edwards, Chris Pirie, Batel Mayen (apologies for any mis-spelling of names due to mis-reading of writing!)

Why I called this session;
I'm a freelance producer and project manager who has spent the last 6 months as acting company director for Big Brum TIE (amongst other contracts). The company is just starting a two-year action research and evaluation project about the impact of Big Brum's work in schools, that will also explore how the work could evolve to respond to the current challenges facing the arts and education sectors. This research is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
TIE means different things to different people, so I thought it would be interesting to see what it means to people at D&D. The following is a summary of the discussion, not a full transcription of what was said, and I will miss things out that people said, but hope I don't mis-represent the spirit of the conversation. If anyone involved in the discussion would like to add to it please comment.

What is TIE?
TIE started at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry in the 60's and it is a movement as well as a form of practice. It seems to me there are as many different approaches to TIE as there are companies who label their work with that title. The TIE that Big Brum delivers uses a dialogic pedagogy (using open questions) to explore what it means to be human. Some TIE companies deliver more issue focussed work that aims to teach children and young people about a topic such as drugs or sexual health. Some TIE companies directly address the curriculum in a subject focussed way.
We didn't spend very long talking about quality, but the issue was raised about TIE having a bad reputation for being of low quality and a perception of being very instrumental ‘teaching children to brush their teeth’. It was also raised that actors often see it as something to do when starting out in a career as a stepping stone to ‘proper acting’ and not respected as a valid career or practice in its own right. Marry this to a dwindling respect for arts subjects and drama in schools and the outlook seems fairly bleak.
However we also discussed how good quality TIE can be transformative, often for both teachers and young people. It is a way of providing an open creative space to explore. It can have a similar feel and ethos to the open space technology used in D&D.

What could TIE be?
We talked about some practical solutions to the challenges faced by TIE. One suggestion to tackle the perception was to call your practice something else. There was discussion about doing work in settings other than schools, such as hospitals. Could a cross-artform approach have more appeal to schools? Do we need a more collaborative approach with teachers? We talked about how we can use the terribly named and worded ‘fundamental British Values’ guidelines to get a foot in the door, and then do the meaningful work we all want to do under that guise, ‘smuggling ideas in’.
In a world where a senior manager of a school can say ‘there is no place for emotion in this school’, where political discussion has been removed from education, where the levels of anxiety are being continuously raised by testing and social media pressures, it feels like good quality TIE could be more important than ever. When discussing what TIE could be, we were really talking about what the best TIE already is, and could/ should still be:
  • A practice and philosophy of life.
  • A space to really question, to encourage curiosity.
  • A place for young people to find themselves.
  • An opportunity for children to really listen to themselves and each other.
  • A space to challenge and explore beliefs.
  • An opportunity to be positively sceptical, not cynical.
  • A platform for holistic education that gives equal status to intelligence of body and mind, and values emotional intelligence.
This could be a time for TIE to rise again, and answer a desperate need to re-humanise the education sector. The discussion ended on the hugely optimistic and unashamedly ambitious hope that TIE might just be the ‘saviour of the future’!




katharine kavanagh

14 January 2017

I began my acting career working for various TIE companies in the UK. My most rewarding - and, to me, exemplary of what TIE can and should be - experiences were with C&T, based in Worcester, and Phileas Fogg Theatre Company, who I still work for in the Netherlands. What has differentiated the work of these companies from others I encountered is a drive to educate and develop students holistically THROUGH theatre techniques, rather than simply putting on a play - with or without ‘participatory’ Q&A - that didactically (or subtextually) provides information to be assimilated.


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