Connecting with Communities in Drama

I took a technological “one giant leap for mankind” the other day. Yep. I tried Skype for the first time. I must say I was floating on air (or lack of it if we’re on the moon in this analogy) at completing my first video chat and was excited by the possibilities it could lead to for my professional learning network and also within my classroom.

This leap into planet Skype was motivated by my desire to connect with one of my PLN’s daughter’s who has been working on a volunteer program in Ecuador. @whatedsaid has been tweeting since January about the need for volunteers in Baños, Ecuador. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that they had recently acquired a new space in which to build a theatre. They were (or are) looking for volunteers to help them recreate that space and hopefully to eventually put on a performance.

I have been wanting for some time to connect my love of theatre with something philanthropic. In the past my experience with charity has been demoralising. I hand over the money but don’t really see what happens with it. I had become sceptical. Perhaps even somewhat cynical. For many of us though, this is the only way we can help and whilst there is nothing all together wrong with this, I made a decision that if I personally was to engage in charity once again it would be through a commitment of my time, with a community I can be in direct contact with and doing something that I enjoy. That I feel I can contribute to passionately. And my passion for Drama is well documented here at the DTN 🙂 Arte del Mundo seems to combine many of those desires. My love of theatre, my South American heritage and a desire to work in less fortunate communities and expose them to the brilliance of theatre.

Whilst I can’t get to Ecuador in the near future, I was motivated to think of a way to help. It also got me thinking about the challenges in bringing a greater sense of community into schools.

Arte de Mundo has been running in Baños for about three years. Originally founded by an American couple, it began with simple face painting and has grown into a series of interactive libraries, English classes, themed lessons and even a cinema. Now they will be adding a theatre and a Rural Outreach Program to the mix.

Mazz Sackson, in the search for a volunteer program that combined her desire to learn Spanish and her theatre passion, found Arte de Mundo, loved it and has been co-managing the program ever since. Mazz tells me, Arte has a Board of Director’s and is funded mostly on donations but also from a small fee charged to student’s who attend their English classes.

There has been a steady stream of volunteers (the peak period is in July) but they are always looking for more. In terms of the theatre building project Mazz and her team are open to the possibilities. There are tentative plans to create a play about the communities experiences living right under Tungurahua or “The Black Giant” volcano. For a community that has never had a theatre and believe that theatre is a puppet show, this will be an entirely new experience for them. Mazz and her team at Arte de Mundo are always looking for new ideas so people bringing their own ideas for projects, theatre based or otherwise, are encouraged.

Mazz’s enthuasiasm for connecting with the community members of Baños is evident. You can hear the ideas swirling around and her motivation and desire to build on her plans. It was this that further ensconced me in thoughts about the importance of connecting with our school communities as well as the wider community through Drama.

In the years that I have been teaching I have directed several small drama productions. Each year, I try to connect the themes of the play with a charity that I think would fit. For example, in 2008 I directed Two Weeks with the Queen. In the play, one of the characters is suffering from childhood cancer so we donated part of our profits to Camp Quality and invited a local family to attend the performance. In 2010 we performed Beach: A Theatrical Fantasia. That year we donated part of the profits to Surf Life Saving Australia. Every two years my Year 10 Drama class performs at Westmead Children’s Hospital at the Hospital School.

I feel these are simple ways to connect with the wider community and the greater purpose drama has in being able to connect student’s and audience emotionally with the stories of the characters whilst at the same time making those connections tangible so that student’s are contributing to, improving and/or educating about a situation or someone else’s wellbeing. In many schools building a sense of community can be difficult. They exist but how can they be strengthened? It has always been a delicate balance between giving money or giving time and in this world of go, go, go and me, me, me, reminding people of the importance of community and giving is something I hold in high regard.

For more information on donating or volunteering with Arte de Mundo, visit their website here. You can also follow them on Twitter @FAM_Ecuador

Whether it is through volunteer programs, donating services or resources, how does Drama at your school connect with its community?

Image Credit: Mamacita Tungurahua / Sara y Tzunki (Cecilia e Francesco) /


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