I work in a school, so the learning environment is a home from home for me. Lessons organised beforehand, clear structure in place throughout, high expectations of the children in terms of both behaviour and outcomes, focussed adult support throughout, an expectation of progress, marking which helps the children identify the next steps in their learning and an evaluation afterwards of
what went well and what we could do better next time.
Then there is play time. Yes some rules apply (no hitting, no kicking, no murdering etc) but ultimately the children are left to their own devices. No structure, no adult intervention, no expectation of progress or formality, just kids outside exercising and being themselves.
Saturday morning drama lives in an interesting place: it’s not like a lesson and it’s not like play time.
It’s somewhere in between.
In years gone by we did experiment with lesson plans and structured sessions, but we quickly abandoned it. A conscious decision was made that the children go to school five days a week and the last thing they need is more school on a Saturday. And to be honest, I personally believe that we get the best out of the kids we work with when we allow them a lot of freedom in our sessions.
Neither, however, is youth drama just two and a half hours of free time without limits or boundaries. There are time constraints, plot structures and several concepts or ideas that we ask them to weave into whatever they are producing. To the un-trained eye (and ear!) it may look like twenty-odd small people tearing around a wide open space jumping and shouting, but in reality there is a focus and an
end-product to everything they do. We also build in feedback time for both ourselves and their peers to acknowledge what they have done well and how they could have done better.
It is this grey area between lessons and play time that allows us to produce our best work. In most cases, the raw ideas come from the children and are sculpted and finessed with our careful guidance. Without them, we would struggle for content, and without us, they would struggle for final product. It’s a team effort: not too much structure, not too little, but without wanting to sound too Goldilocks about it, I think we get it just right.