Recently I came across these words that I have already heard before but they somehow disappeared from my memory. Now they caught my attention. Is it because of my present occupation with thinking about the future life and human relationships after this pandemic time is over (that I wrote about in my last post)? Is it because it expresses my own world-view and thinking about life? Is it because in them I find so many important messages for all of us who are in any way engaged in education and raising of children, theatre art and dramatic education? I don’t know. Maybe because of all of that.
I can reflect on all those four statements with approval and appreciation, but I don’t want to enter into the mistake of interpreting something that is clear enough itself. Carl Gustav Jung said in one of his writings how we interpret only those things that we don’t understand. Indeed! Understanding doesn’t need interpretation. So, I am not going to interpret those statements, but rather use them to reflect on education and raising of children, on theatre art and drama education.
Live without pretending!
This direct invitation is like a scream (what is fully understandable knowing that those lines are coming from a rapper Drake) expressing our deep desire for truthfulness in every aspects of our life — in marriages, in families, at work and in everyday communication with other people. Too many social barriers and rules as well as the expectations of the others are preventing us of being truthful — to do and to say what we really think and to be who we really are. It is also such a strong invitation to all of us to remove our social and private masks, stop pretending and live truthfully.
Indeed, why do we need to pretend that we are what the other people expect us to be? Why do we need to pretend that we love everyone and everybody? Why cannot we openly and freely say “I love you” if we feel love or “I don’t love you” if the love has gone. Why do we need to pretend that we are happy just because it is a socially acceptable behavior?
What about raising of our children? Pretending is lying, isn’t it?! Do we educate our children to lie? Are we using education to put the masks on their faces covering their true self and asking them to pretend that they are what we want them to be and what the others expect them to be and not what they really are? Do we ever ask ourselves “Who is my child, what does he or she think, what does he or she want, how does he or she feel, what is my child the best in and what is his or hers the worst, what are his or hers preferences in life, what are his or hers talents, what does he or she want to become in life…” Are we talking to our children and listen to their needs or do we cover our negligence behind the sentence: “I want my child to be happy”.
Four years ago I made a performance “Terracotta Boy” in Xi’an for Meriton Children’s Theatre that was dealing with this problem. The main character of the story is a boy who doesn’t fit to the society and whose social mask of Terracotta Soldier (兵马俑) that he assumed through education is broken. He is expelled from the society of Terracotta Soldiers and, like in every fairy tale, he goes for a quest for his true self.
With a help of Fenghuang (凤凰), Monkey King (孙悟空) and Dragon King (龙王) he finds his new mask that is his own face. “Why should I wear a mask when my own face is so beautiful”, says the boy at the end of the performance and all the other soldiers remove their masks too. They are all finally free and they joyfully play with the sand.
What to say about theatre and dramatic education?
In the main stream dramatic education in China, conducted and taught by British and other Anglo-Saxon Drama teachers or Chinese teachers that were educated in Britain, children are asked to pretend. They are taught different conventions that can help them pretend that they are other characters. A play in which children play different roles they call Pretending Play. You can even find text books on Drama in Education that are entitled like this one — “Pretend to Learn” (John O’Toole & Julie Dunn).
Drama is a wonderful tool for children to explore their true self, to enhance and liberate their emotional life, to learn about the world, to socialize, to develop self confidence, to learn how to make decisions and take responsibility for their deeds, to improve literacy … etc. etc. but only if the children are exposed to a real emotional, cognitive and spiritual experience. How can they obtain all those, how can they have benefit of Drama if we ask them to pretend, if we teach them to lie.
Stanislavsky and later famous teachers of acting (like Sanford Meisner or Michael Chekhov) were emphasizing truthfulness in performances and acting: — “Acting (drama) is behaving truthfully in imaginary situation.”
Isn’t truthfulness what we need to achieve with our children too, both in home education, in schools or in Drama Education? Don’t we want our children to become truthful, independent, creative, honest and confident people fully aware of themselves and the world around themselves, people that will, like all the heroes in fairy tales, fight for their true self which actualization will bring them happiness!
I am sure that all of us want to see that kind of people one day when our children will be adults. In order to achieve that, we need to start from ourselves — live without pretending!