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Pedagogical recipes for theatre education

Collection Date: 27 May 2009
Scholar #1 Info: (if more than one scholar's process is described, copy this set for each scholar)

  • Name: Luca Giberti
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization: University of Rome "La Sapienza"
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Digital technologies applied to theatre

 Scholar #2 Info:

  • Name: Raffaella Santucci
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization: University of Rome "La Sapienza"
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Digital technologies applied to theatre

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Luca Giberti
  • Email:
  • Title:
  • Institution/Organization:

Notes on Methodology:



A brief survey of pedagogical aspects of theatre tuition, intended both as drama practice as well as theatre studies, is presented. The possible teaching scenarios are examined concisely (classroom, one-to-one, self-study, etc.).


Scholarly narrative

Scholarly narratives

Theatre pedagogy




Pedagogical recipes for theatre education

By Luca Giberti, Raffaella Santucci

One learns theatre by doing. This is because all good theatre is, in essence, a successful exercise in empiricism, whereby the analogous of the experiment is given by the show in front of an audience. Theatre theory cannot be separated from its practice. Because of this, one of the great quests of XX century theatre has been on how to find a way to fix and transmit a body of practical knowledge that is essentially implicit in the craft of acting. The great pedagogues of theatre are those masters who sought ways to solve this problem: directors such as Stanislavski, Brecht, Grotowski, Brook. Their texts and the recordings of their shows bear witness to their efforts.

Better theatre tuition should be [Ehrmann, Stephen C, Gilbert, Steven W. and McMartin, Flora]:

o more authentic (bearing a closer resemblance to the tasks and problems of work and life after college),
o more active (engage students' attention, energy, and creativity),
o more collaborative (students thinking and learning together),
o more feedback-rich (students learning by getting rapid results from and/or assessment of work they have done).

1. Pedagogical paradigms for theatre

Theatre education paradigms considered here include both Theoretical Training and Practical Training, and take into account different approaches to teaching. In performing-arts education the various modalities of learning can be classified on the basis of the learning environment and the type of interaction between the teacher/director and the students:

The spectrum of activities described above spans theory and practice. In particular, modalities marked by a double asterisk concern all those activities that concur to the making of a show: training of actors/rehearsing (2), designing, building, rigging lights and sound, plotting (3), analysing and memorising text (4). Modalities marked by * concern theoretical teaching, i.e. tuition in theatre studies. Modalities marked by ** can entail theory as well, either in the form of lessons or seminars or in that of reading for self-study.
The learning modalities considered here consist of Classroom Work, [Rehearsal Work, Lab/Venue work,] Individual Study and Distance Learning.
The adopted teaching method itself is mostly a hybrid form, i.e. it requires the complementary use of different approaches, thus making for changes in flow control to follow the requirements of the adopted teaching method. Class teaching, according to Wifried Gruhn and Wilhelm Wittenbruch, shows different forms of interaction. As illustrated in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Some existing teaching and learning paradigms
In "One to all", the teacher gives all information and the pupils just receive: this is "ex-cathedra teaching" in the purest form. However all the different scenarios taken into account here can in real life be mutually inclusive and interleaved with each other as a managed mix. The simplest scenario can be illustrated as follows:

Figure 2: Hybrid teaching forms - a simple example

Figure 3: Hybrid teaching: solo and cooperative forms combined
Another possible scenario: two teachers deployed for the same lesson (one for voice, one for physical acting) as follows:

Figure 4: hybrid forms involving a teaching team

General learning modalities: (1) Classroom work

Classroom work is defined as consisting of activities of listening, observing, writing, discussing, reading that involve the interaction between one or more Teachers and one or more Students.  Typically, classroom work involves one Teacher with one or more Students.  In such a setting, the structure of the class can comprise:

• One active Teacher with several passive (i.e. listening) Students (ex cathedra).
• Several Students involved in discussion/debate or team work, chaired and guided by one Teacher (discussion or teamwork)
• A number of Teachers suitable to individually follow all the Students (1 to 1, 2 to 1, 1 to n, etc.)

General Learning Modalities: (2) Rehearsal room

Rehearsal or workshop-style modality is characterised by activities of physical training, observing, acting/improvising, reading, discussing that involve the interaction between one or more Teachers and one or more Students. Typically, rehearsal work involves one Teacher (with or without an Assistant) with one or more Students. The structure of the work can comprise:

• Several Students involved in teamwork of various types, guided by generally one or two Teachers (cooperative teamwork).
• A number of Teachers suitable to individually follow all the Students (1 to 1, 2 to 1, 1 to n, etc.)

General learning modalities: (3) Lab/Venue

Lab modalities are characterised by activities based on the use of one or more types of specialised machines housed in a lab, involving the interaction between one or more Teachers and one or more Students. The structure of the session can comprise:

• One active Teacher with several passive (i.e. listening) Students (ex cathedra - except that the physical setting of the Lab or Venue will probably not feature any privileged desk or podium, hence quick ex-cathedra briefings would be a good description)
• Several Students involved in teamwork, guided by one Teacher (teamwork)
• A number of Teachers suitable to individually follow all the Students (1 to 1, 2 to 1, 1 to n, etc.)

General learning modalities: (4) Self study

Individual study is a modality which is not Teacher-led and may involve one or more Students studying under their own initiative (autonomous learning). In particular, individual study is a fundamental part of the acting process. Rehearsals can range from daily for the whole day to 3-4 times a week for a minimum of 2-3 hours. During the remaining time, the Student-actor is required to think analytically about the text and her/his part and to memorise it.

General Learning Modalities: (5) Distance learning

Distance Learning is a learning process which involves virtual communication between Teacher and Student or between Students only across geographically-separated locations and mediated by some communication link. Advantages of distance learning settings include:

• Experts can teach students in remote areas
• Test-lectures all over the world are possible
• Bringing 'unaffordable' experts to small institutions
• Decrease in travelling costs
• Access from any convenient location (mobility and flexibility with irregular work schedules)
• Self-paced learning (intensity, personal knowledge acquisition)

Distance learning has proven itself very useful, allowing people to benefit from tuition that would otherwise be unavailable to them. However, with the means afforded by currently-available software (audio, video and text chat, file sharing, desktop sharing, peer-to-peer), distance learning can in no way replace live group or one-to-one training such as in (2) Rehearsal modality or (3) Lab/Venue modality.

2. Innovation and pedagogical aspects

In theatre education (but also in academic research), the following problems still await a widespread standardised solution:
• organising different typologies of content (text, video and image records) for effective searching, browsing, commenting and quoting by both students and researchers;
• providing ways to access and share the above records between scholars and/or students, and practitioners remotely and securely.

IT-based tools not only hold the promise to solve these problems, but open up many possibilities for developing new pedagogical and research paradigms, for which IT is not merely an aid but a central feature. Multi- and cross-media databases are also of great importance for preserving and transmitting knowledge of such an inherently transient activity as theatre is. The body of knowledge connected to theatre practice can at least in part be preserved and transmitted through extensive recording of exercises, training, rehearsals, which are expression of a knowledge that is difficult to verbalise.

3. Techniques of feedback and assessment

Efficient learning depends on the student's perception of his/her own difficulties, his/her progress and the rationale for the deployed learning strategies. Throughout the following, we must distinguish between theoretical activity, such as theatre-studies lessons in Classroom modality, and practice training, for example workshops with acting students done in Rehearsal room modality.

Theory feedback and monitoring over time
Different techniques may be employed in order to monitor progress and difficulties of a student over time. Ongoing assessment works well in this respect: partial written examinations can be performed during the year, with the dual purpose of monitoring student assimilation of the new concepts exposed in the courses, as well as of fostering a pattern of regular study and attendance to lectures. The results of the partial tests give feedback to the students about their progress.
Theory assessment
Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement. Its effective practice, then, begins with and enacts a vision of the kinds of learning we most value. To this end, written or oral examinations take place at the end of the year (or of the semester/trimester). Written examinations can consist of multiple-choice or open-answer questionnaires, essays to be written in class, or, for the end-of-year assessment, the production of a monographic DVD pertaining to the subject. When used for the same course (for partial and final examinations), this diverse array of methods is useful for obtaining a more complete and accurate picture of such a complex phenomenon as learning in theatre studies, and therefore also a firmer base for improving the educational experience in the future.

Practice training feedback and self-assessment
The following aspects are listed as examples of widely-adopted advanced techniques for feedback and assessment.

"Mirror" techniques
Pedagogical mirror techniques refer to situations where the teacher and the student practice one in front of the other. The student imitates the teacher, or the teacher tries to improve a fault in the quality of the student.

Exchanging the roles of teacher and student
In this scenario the teacher might go through the passage being rehearsed by the student, or even, in case of exercises, imitate some of the student's problems. This situation can be viewed as another kind of mirror. The student perceives the same exercise from a different perspective. By taking his/her place, the teacher makes the student see himself through a magnifying glass.

Delayed feedback and error correction
The teacher may correct a certain difficulty of a student immediately when it occurs. She/he may also decide to delay this correction for several reasons as follows:
• the pedagogical goal is elsewhere; for instance, if the student is working on the  interpretation of the text, issues of volume may be put temporarily aside;
• the student does not perceive the fault by himself, and does not feel that there is an error to be corrected; the teacher waits for the student to become aware of the error and correct it by himself;
• alternatively, in the same scenario as above, the teacher devises an exercise to make the student aware of the fault, or, as in the mirror case, asks someone else to perform the same passage/exercise, with the first student watching and hopefully learning by positive or negative example;
• the student may not have yet the skill to correct the error.

Magnification of difficulties
In certain situations it can be useful to correct a fault by showing and making the student work towards amplifying the fault. The magnification of a certain difficulty of a student is a common technique allowing the teacher to point out a fault or a quality.  This is a generally useful pedagogical technique. When a skill is mastered in this way, it is associated with the memory of the pedagogic flow that led to it. The memory represents an important aspect of the student's progress.

Exchange of ideas between teachers
Teachers exchange both private and public information regarding a student. Private information refers to aspects that would be difficult to explain to the student. Public information refers to technical aspects which they wish to emphasise, for instance, a difficulty of posture or voice detected in the student during a rehearsal may be 'doctored' by another teacher during training.  Teachers may also wish to exchange global information related to the school, staging ideas, and pedagogical ideas.

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