Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent.
Paul Arden

To honor 10/10/10, I created my five-year-plan i.e. the Time Capsule. I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years? The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map and a series of four posts.

The first node, I Teach, was the topic of yesterday’s post. The next node that blossomed on the paper was the green one.

I Create.

At the moment, the biggest creation I’m brewing is my MA thesis. Despite all the drama, trauma and self-work associated with it – or maybe because of them – I really want to do some amount of research after graduating, too. There’s a certain appeal to processing volumes upon volumes of information and data, slicing it, sieving it, and distilling it into a bottle of This Is What I Found Out.

In my thesis process, I’m knee-deep in analysis. I can’t see the bigger picture yet, but some shapes and flavors are starting to emerge. The creative process is bubbling within me and within the data, and the scent of something not-quite-finished-but-on-its-way is almost tangible. It’s frustrating, it’s hard work – it’s a prime example of the boulder (the video contains the kind of vocabulary teenagers invariably learn first in whatever foreign language they choose to take up) that has to be pushed up the hill.

But it’s fabulous. It’s a chance to actually create new ways of thinking so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, it’s learning in the most profound way you could imagine. And after learning whatever there is to learn in the data, you have to write a research report to communicate your new knowledge to the scientific community. Awesome.

Creating through research is also intimately linked to teaching. First, by learning through my research I will become better at my chosen profession, assuming I keep researching the teaching situation. Second, the process of planning what to teach and how is very much a creative one. And finally, if I manage to get a position as a postgraduate student at the university, my job description will most probably include lecturing and teaching, too.

Besides research and teaching, I’d love to be able to create on the fields of music and drama. For the most part, I’m drawn to improvisation. Over the years, I’ve become more or less addicted to the carpe diem effect that comes joining an improvisation, whether dramatic or musical. There is something about a good impro that heals the soul. I wouldn’t mind performing, either, but I’d be surprised if I ended up earning my keep as a professional musician or actress. Happily surprised, mind you. 🙂

One more important channel of creativity is my writing and especially the blog. I’m so happy I’ve managed to recreate a relationship with the blog, since there was a long period (at least in Internet time) of blocks and not feeling like writing anything much at all. The blog allows me to process things out loud and come up with new ways of thinking, much like research – but without as much bibliography or analytical rigidity. 🙂 It is a space for me to spitball, as it were, about phenomena that I find fascinating.

(Some of the areas in this node will hopefully become Contribution ones. While doodling my Time Capsule, I was acutely aware of the fact that all the passion in the world won’t pay the mortgage on its own. Since making “I Earn Money” a node in itself was not an option, I drew a yellow bubble between the I Create and I Help nodes. The yellow bubble represents the money people are willing to pay in exchange for the value my contribution creates in their life.)

Why teach? Why create? There’s a strong undercurrent of wanting to help others. Quite naturally, the following node was I Help. More on that in a few days.

Thank you for tuning in! And, as always, keep catching your own insightings!



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The basis of human trust is established through play signals.
Dr. Stuart Brown

As I mentioned earlier, I’m hooked on TED.com. Since I don’t really have time to just sit down and watch the lectures all day, I multi-task. While doing the dishes last week, I listened to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture on the importance of play throughout our lives. Something clicked.


Since I’m approaching the final stages of my studies and the dreaded G word (graduation), I’m inevitably thinking about what I’ll do when I no longer have the security of school and student status. Sure, I’ll be a teacher, and teachers are always needed. How long will it take, though, for me to be old, wise and experienced enough for someone to employ me full-time?

Since jobseeking is a relevant topic for others I know as well, I’ve been keeping an eye on the job market for Arts majors without significant financial or technological expertise. You know what? It’s not hot. Every now and then, I find myself thinking I maybe should have done a more marketable degree, read more relevant minors, acquired more financial expertise and so on.

During one of these soul-searches, I happened to listen to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture. Much of it I already knew, having studied drama education for a year and a half now. Still, there were a few points that really resonated. One was the notion quoted above that trust is established through play signals.

Another was the story about play-deprived rats and regular rats. When presented with a cat-smelling object, the rats all ran and hid, regardless of their play history. The play-deprived ones, however, never came out. They didn’t have whatever it takes to start exploring the surroundings to find out if the danger is still imminent or already gone.

Drama as play

Essentially, drama is about play and make-believe. In English, the word play encompasses both the fun, frivolous, unorganized activity and the theatrical presentation of a drama text. All in all, one of the central concepts in drama and drama education is that of play, playfulness and a shared understanding of “creating an elsewhere”.

That shared understanding, I’d imagine, is the very thing that builds trust.

Jokes, flirtation, throwing someone a baseball or watching a soap opera all require a certain mindset both from the initiator and from the respondent. If the initiator wants to play catch as she throws the ball, and the respondent thinks they’re being attacked, there’s a huge miscommunication that might well result in bruising and bitter words. Jokes work in much the same way, only verbally. There, too, the danger of bitter words and emotional bruising is obvious.

That same trust – in oneself and in others – could again be the reason why the undeprived rats started to explore their surroundings and why the play-deprived ones didn’t.

Play is that significant.


I’m training to be a drama teacher. That means I’ll be teaching, instructing and guiding kids, teenagers and adults how to play without feeling stupid about it. Or, better yet, how to play and feel stupid and not care.

Which will improve their communication skills, their risk-taking skills, their trusting skills, and more.

How is that not the single most awesome thing in the world?

How could that not be something people want to learn?

My goal for the rest of my studies will be to figure out and build myself a way to bring that to the people who need it most. A school is a good context for that, but it’s definitely not the only one. By focusing on my future title – teacher – I’m probably limiting my career possibilities.

I feel my dream job is getting closer and closer. 🙂

Thank you for popping by and taking the time to read this – I hope you enjoy(ed) the Stuart Brown lecture! Until next time, keep catching your own insightings!



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reflection (Merriam-Webster online)
– an instance of reflecting; the return of light or sound waves from a surface
– the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
– something produced by reflecting; an image given back by a reflecting surface
– a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
– consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose

One of the big words in Finnish teacher training today is the reflective process. Whatever you do, whoever you meet, wherever you go, it’s essential to reflect upon the experience to develop yourself as a teacher.

For the first few years of my studies, I saw the reflective process as a nuisance, especially since it often involved writing a reflective journal about this, that and the other. More often than not “reflection” translated freely into “producing the kind of jargon the lecturer probably wants to read”.

For the most part, though, the problem with the reflection process was not the thinking back and writing itself – it was the lack of a proper mirror. Not having good questions to reflect my experience on was like trying to put on makeup and using a spoon as a mirror. Sure, you’ll get something down, but you know you’re not seeing the whole picture

Experiential learning

Reflecting on experience is a central part of the experiential learning process, which is the main way of learning through drama activities. It’s no surprise, then, that the whole experience-reflection-conceptualization-modified experience circle has become clearer during the fifteen months I’ve now been studying drama education.

The important thing in the reflection stage, however, is to have the right kind of mirror. With questions that support the focus of learning, the teacher can guide the participants into fabulous insightings about the ongoing drama process and its themes. With misguided questions, though, the teacher can undermine the ongoing drama process or leave the participants wondering about the purpose of the activity.

As a drama-teacher-in-training, it sometimes feels awkward to ask direct questions about the exercise we just did. Well, everyone knows what we just did, right? It’s still important to ask the participants to verbalise or otherwise transform what they experienced – draw, dance, sing, mime – to gain new points of view into the issue. Furthermore, if there are twenty people participating, there are twenty different experiences, which can then enrich each other if discussed out loud.

After the reflection stage, experiential learning entails some kind of an analysis or conceptualization stage. This is where the experience meets my mental theory of the realm of that experience – learning, teaching, India, group dynamics, photosynthesis, stress tolerance, communication, whatever.

If I have experienced something new and unusual, I will have to change my theory to accommodate the new information. Based on the modified theory, I then go on to new experiences in the same realm, hopefully a bit better prepared to meet the challenges.

The mirror problem

The reflection stage is very important in the entire process, because it determines the conscious information we gather of our experience. This is why the questions – the mirror that reflects the whole picture – are so central. With the wrong questions, we might interpret the whole situation in a twisted light.

This is especially true in an educational setting, because the teacher more or less guides the participants’ conclusions with the questions she sets.

There is also a distiction between introspective questions and theme-oriented questions. Regardless of the process at hand, introspective questions are often useful as they chart the participants’ experiences of themselves during the activity. Theme-oriented questions, then, are the ones where a teacher must really pay attention.

Last weekend I conducted my very first process drama on the themes of belonging in a group. With a different set of reflective questions, though, the same basic process could easily have focused around how detrimental cult religions are, or around communication patterns in friendly or hostile contexts. Quite different learning processes might have taken place.

Everyday experiential learning?

Anyone who has ever done a bit of self-work recognises the basic structure of experiential learning.

Huh, I seem to have devoured half a bag of chips. Why did I do that? Because I was tired and hungry. Why was I tired and hungry? Because I skipped lunch. Why did I skip lunch? Because… and so on, until we get to the a-HA! moment.

It seems I get cranky and lethargic if I don’t eat, which makes me skip all kinds of duties, including lunch and deadlines. At this stage, the hypothetical example person (ok, you guessed, it’s me) would be well advised to somehow accommodate this piece of information into her theoretical framework of, say, health, well-being, and productivity.

The most useful tool in self-work are, of course, introspective questions. Figuring out what I think of something or why I choose to act like I do is highly useful, because that helps me address the stuff I’m self-working on in a deeper level. Root Cause Analysis – asking ‘why’ five times – could be a useful tool as far as introspection goes.

Theme-oriented experiental self learning is of course possible as well. In that case, reflecting on the pros and cons or the details of successes and failures of your experiences might do the trick. I think I’d get someone more knowledgeable to help me out at first, though. It takes a bit of experience to be able to ask useful questions about any skill.

Note to self: use experiential learning skills to regain the basics of playing guitar.

As always, feel free to comment and reflect upon this and everything else – and until we meet again, keep catching your own insightings!



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What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
T.S. Eliot

Familiar new beginnings

Every single New Year’s Eve I can remember, someone has cracked a joke about “see you next year” or “I swear I won’t do the dishes for the rest of the year!” or something clever like that. More often than not, that someone has been me. 🙂

There is something very liberating about the thought of familiar endings and new beginnings. Familiar in the sense that you know there is nothing intrinsically different about the New Year that would force you out of your comfort zone.

There is, however, the same giddy feeling of transformation you get when standing at a railway station or an airport. The notion of literally being in the process* is appealing, either when going somewhere yourself or merely watching others.

*”Etymology: Middle English proces, from Anglo-French procés, from Latin processus, from procedere.” Merriam Webster Online

As my year of unfamiliar new beginnings drew to a close Wednesday night, I was contemplative more than anything. I was happy, of course, that a new year was about to begin, but somehow the giddiness was gone.

I guess my past year was so full of endings and beginnings, from the death of my sister to giving up two different long-term teaching gigs to taking up Shiva Nata to getting engaged and finishing my BA that, well, the end of a year just didn’t feel like a juicy new opportunity anymore.

As far as resolutions go, instead of planning a whole new me for 2009, I’ll try and get to know the person 2008 moulded me into. Should take a year or so. Between that and being open to the unforeseen possibilities the world has in store for me, I think I’m set.

Familiar vs. unfamiliar communication

By far the best part of my New Year’s Celebration was the chance to observe the dynamics between familiar and unfamiliar people. I especially loved the chance to watch nonverbal communication in interesting situations, although status transactions and communication strategies did intrigue me, too.

Background story: I attended a party hosted by a friend, and the guests included my friends, whose communication strategies I’m familiar with, as well as the hostess’s friends that I hadn’t met before.

Fascinating situation 1: watching, but not overhearing, two people have a conversation where one is visibly more eager than the other. Attack and defense, if you will. A step forwards by A, a step backwards by B. A touch on the arm by A, a crossing of arms by B. All during a seemingly friendly, smiling interaction.

The following act was, if possible, even more interesting. It included several people, both men and women, and the status competition was of World Series caliber.

Interestingly, some of the participants didn’t even seem to need to up the stakes, they did it without any self-consciousness or effort. Others, then, were visibly stressed by the fact that they were not the center of attention, and pulled out all the stops to regain their former glory.

There were also a situations where direct and indirect communication strategies intertwined, sometimes with a smooth transition, sometimes with a radical clash. This was especially the case later on during the night, when some participants had already inebriated the part of their brain that discerns between actual personal insults and friendly jabs. Pair that with the need to show compassion, and you’re set for a treat. Fortunately the situation calmed down before any real physical consequences.

So far, the greatest new skill I’ve gained from my drama teacher studies is the ability to watch people interact and be truly fascinated by them instead of getting annoyed or offended. This is something I’m really grateful for. The next step, then, is being able to explicate that experience into concrete elements that can be brought onstage or into language classes.

Thank you for stopping by and hanging out with me. As always, feel free to comment, and may the year 2009 turn out wonderful for catching your own insightings!



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the implicit or metaphorical meaning (as of a literary text)
(Merriam-Webster Online)

Today’s insighting was inspired by a conversation I had with my dear fiancé the other day. It was A Typical Conversation in Two Acts:

In Act I, we were talking past each other while seemingly communicating;

In Act II,  we started talking about what it was exactly that the other heard in the remarks we made in Act I.

That got me thinking about subtext, a literary or dramatic notion about the implied meaning behind what is said.

Subtext and drama text

The play on the page might have the following dialogue:

J: I love you.
M: What?
J: You heard me.
M: I sure did.

It’s up to the director of the play to figure out what happens during and between those lines. In other words, what is actually meant by the characters when they utter those lines.

If you wanted to make it a (cheesy) romantic comedy scene, you could go with the following subtexts:

J: I love you. (Please don’t reject me?)
M: What? (This is a dream come true!)
J: You heard me. (You are… happy?)
M: I sure did. (Come here and let me embrace you!)

If, on the other hand, you wanted to make it a tragic scene depicting the relationship between a mother and a child, you don’t have to change the lines, just the subtext:

J: I love you. (You owe me your life!)
M: What? (How can you guilt me like that?!)
J: You heard me. (I have the power in this situation.)
M: I sure did. (I am so disappointed.)

Add to this the layer of movement, gesture and facial expression, and you get two very different interpretations of the same script.

Of course, the actors know each others’ subtexts. In an ordinary conversation, though, we can’t always be sure of how our remarks are interpreted. Even more importantly, we can’t be sure if we’ve interpreted the other person correctly.

Subtext and everyday communication

For every single utterance, there are a multitude of interpretations depending on the context and the relationship of the interlocutors. The degree of appropriate directness between interlocutors, first of all, is determined by the formality of the situation and their distance in social hierarchy.

Then there are politeness and imposition issues – it’s all right to be direct when asking for the salt in the breakfast table, whereas it’s quite another matter to ask your boss for a raise or a week off work. This I hope to come back to later.

With indirectness, then, comes the problem of multiple interpretations. And this is where subtext marches onstage.

Case in point: The Typical Conversation (Act I)

This is how I interpreted the conversation

Me: I’m feeling crappy about that thing you did or didn’t do.
– – subtext: I’m feeling bad.

J: But blah blah blah, I did blah blah. (I’m rephrasing here)
– – subtext: You are not allowed to feel bad.
Me: The thing was, blah blah…
– – subtext: I am too allowed to be upset, you blockhead!
J: But couldn’t you have blah blah…
– – subtext: It’s your own fault you’re feeling upset, so there! Ha!

and so on.

This is how J told me he had interpreted the conversation

Me: I’m feeling crappy about that thing you did or didn’t do.
– – subtext: You ruined my day and are a lousy person

J: But blah blah blah, I did blah blah. (I’m rephrasing here)
– – subtext: You are attacking me and I don’t think I did anything wrong.
Me: The thing was, blah blah…
– – subtext: You lousy person, I’m determined to make you sorry!
J: But couldn’t you have blah blah…
– – subtext: You’re blaming me for your own mistakes, ma’am!

In other words, it was the classic I-need-to-be-heard, he-feels-the-need-to-defend pattern. Even though I really was trying to be constructive, instead of starting out with:

Me: You f**king d******, why do you always blah blah blah!!
– – subtext: I’m feeling bad.

What eventually defused the situation – and marked the transition between Acts I and II – was J’s comment:
J: I understand you’re upset
– – subtext: I understand you’re upset

After hearing that, I didn’t need to convince him that, indeed, I was feeling upset. From his point of view, I could stop attacking him and start thinking about whether or not I’d had something to do with the end result, too.

It’s all very classic communications stuff, but it was interesting to see just how deep these pre-programmed scripts of subtexts can run. And how long it took both of us to realise that it was not, in fact, about the initial issue anymore.

Talk about a duh moment. Wait – we weren’t, like, listening to each other? Whoah.

As for the topic of saying what you mean and meaning what you say… ahhh. A large part of the pragmatical branch of linguistics is concerned with the mechanisms around that very phenomenon.

I promise to unleash my inner linguist and address those mechanisms as soon as I get some empirical material to illustrate my points. With the holidays coming up, I have no doubt my data will be plentiful.

Have a lovely weekend (or week, if you’re reading the archives), and keep catching your own insightings!



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