“In theater angels learn how it is to be human and live on Earth.”
Michael Ende “Ophelia’s Shadow Theater”
I read what I wrote a year ago. It was January 28, 2020. We were already in the year of the Rat. The Pandemic was at its beginning and the time of quarantine began. I wrote:
“In the history of the arts, the best and the most interesting developments were made in the times of crisis. A crisis was always a stimulant for the arts. Artists reacted on the crisis, using it as a possibility for development of the art itself but also offering possibilities for solving the problems. The Decameron, a collection of novellas by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) is one of the examples. The book contains 100 tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death which was afflicting the city. Those young people were in quarantine and there they were celebrating life against the epidemic of 1348 that killed thousands of people. Those young people didn’t accept the Triumph of Death but resisted death by celebrating humanity and Life. It was the beginning of Italian Renaissance — humanism born from the deadly epidemic disease.” (Read the article at https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/I_Q9FC099G68NxLrz7DJRw)
The year 1348 marked the beginning of Renaissance in Europe. Is it just a coincidence that the year 1348 was also a year of the Rat?! Is it a proof of the accuracy of Chinese astrology and another example of how the history always repeats itself? Be it whatever, it is a fact that the year of the Rat in both cases brought deadly disease that put the humanity in danger. However, at the same time it marked the beginning of a new era. In the case of 1348, the year of the Rat marked the rebirth of Humanism. (The word “renaissance” is “rebirth” (from French renaissance, re – ‘back, again’ + naissance ‘birth’ (from Latin nascentia, from nasci ‘be born’).) The year of the Rat in 1348 changed European culture forever. In the context of the arts, it meant the rebirth of humanism of the old classical (Greek and Roman) arts and culture.
How about the Rat year 2020?
I am contemplating about the consequences of the year of the Rat 2020 in the dawn of the year of Ox that we are entering. The expectations that it will bring renaissance in our lives are unrealistic, but we can legitimately ask ourselves about the history that repeats itself. If not in renaissance, are we in the era in which the very nature of humanity and humanism is at least questioned? The relativism of life and the vicinity of death must bring change in the mindset of everyone who think about existential problems and the reasons of being. Those questions are immanent for the philosophy and the arts and they go hand in hand throughout the history.
Isn’t it THE holy mission of every artist to question the time in which humanity is as well as the humanity itself in the given moment? Arts are the torchbearers of humanity, especially in the time of darkness in which we are now. The arts are showing us the way out, enlightening the way where the humanity should, or better – shouldn’t, go. Dramatic Arts too! Being the sum of all the arts, standing on the top of the pyramid of all the arts, Dramatic Arts have (and always have had) special position and played special role of the herald of the new ages. With one foot in history and tradition and with another foot in the future, asking the questions about “now and here” but never giving the answers, Drama/Theater is offering us possible ways where we, humans might go. Drama is teaching us nothing but is guiding us through the labyrinth of our lives like Ariadne’s red thread. However, If drama is teaching anything, then it is teaching about humanity. At the end of his marvelous story “Ophelia’s Shadow Theater”, Michael Ende made a statement about the mission of theater and dramatic arts: — “In theater, Angels learn how it is to be human and live on Earth.”
Are we, theater/drama makers, artists and all of us who are in any sense connected with so called Drama Education, aware of this holly mission?
Some signs that it might be the case already start to occur, like buds in spring.
Drama/Theater Education is an Aesthetic Education
Recently, I took a part in a discussion about Drama and Dramatic Education led in a WeChat group. When Drama/Theater Education is concerned, my position is very clear: — Dramatic Education is Aesthetic Education, both for the future professionals/artists and for the children and young people respectively. Full Stop! Period! All the subcategories like “Drama in Education” (DIE) or any applications of drama in educational process that are not related to aesthetic education are irrelevant. That discussion, although short, was a small bud on the tree of renaissance and it was very encouraging for me.
Another encouraging bud I found in the writing of prof. Chen Ke. In his inspiring article “美育论坛丨陈珂：美育教育与智能时代” (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/muTmzf-OF862MGeNbNu5VQ) (Aesthetic Education and the Age of Intelligence), professor Chen contemplates the nature of Aesthetic Education in the time that is given to us and the time we are approaching. The mere fact that prof. Chen had a need to discuss Aesthetic Education is a recognition that the existing paradigm doesn’t meet the needs of contemporary Aesthetic Education and sensibility of time, what is more than obvious in existing paradigm of Dramatic/Theater Education. Among many valuable insights and observations, prof. Chen quoted 欧阳予倩 (Ouyang Yuqian (1889-1962) was a Chinese playwright, Peking opera actor and writer, film screenwriter and director, and drama educator. He is considered by drama historians as one of the three founders of Chinese spoken drama, together with Tian Han and Hong Shen.): “一切艺术作品的好坏判断，说到底除了给我们美的共同感受外，还要符合我们人的 “人情事理” 。所以全世界学校在美育教育中都是以古典主义作为核心支柱的。” (“In the final analysis, the judgment of all works of art should not only give us a common feeling of beauty, but also conform to our “human feelings and reason”. Therefore, schools all over the world take classicism as the core pillar of aesthetic education.”)
“Human feelings and reason” — Humanism and rebirth of classical principals in the arts as the basis of Aesthetic Education was and is a path to Renaissance, rebirth of the values lost in the era of pandemic and Information Revolution. Dramatic Education limited to skills and “Drama in Education” (Applied Drama) limited to education are the dead ends of Dramatic/Theater Education.
I look at this article of prof. Chen in the light of coveted spring — Renaissance of Dramatic Arts as well as Dramatic/Theater Education — hoping that it will initiate wider discussion on what we are doing and what we want to do in Theaters and in Dramatic/Theater Education on all levels. Education in Dramatic/Theater Art (Drama Education) is of paramount importance not only for the arts itself but for the humanity in general. Are we all that are working in the field of Drama, Theater and Drama Education aware of this? Are we aware of our role and our responsibility for the future generations? Are we doing enough to serve this noble goal of nurturing (if not saving) humanity?
In Croatian language there is a saying: — “I am harnessed like an OX”. In the year of the OX, we all need to harness ourselves like oxen, to the very edge of our possibilities, for the sake of humanism that is so severely endangered by disease, information revolution and existing paradigm of education. It is our duty and our responsibility! Luckily, we have the tool, and we have all the necessary means to execute our mission — The ARTS! So, let’s teach the Arts and let’s DO the Arts. Only then, maybe, the year of the Rat can mark the beginning of Renaissance again.
I wish you very Happy New Year of the OX!