The Dragon Drama Blog
This Autumn marks the beginning of a new season, a new beginning after the heart-ache and trials of Covid-19, and a whole set of exciting avenues for Dragon Drama.
We've decided to celebrate with a year long exploration of the art and magic of collaborative storytelling: TALES BY FIRELIGHT. Delving into stories told round a campfire, stores to entertain and inform and bond communities together felt fitting after a period of so much isolation and loneliness. In a sense, we've always had a campfire burning at Dragon Drama; in the centre of the circle where we sit and hear a story. This ancient ritual has existed for thousands of years, and continues to comfort and thrill us today.
And so, in each term of this year we will tell a different epic story, beginning with Beowulf: the Old English poem set in Pagan Scandinavia in the 6th century. The author is known only as 'the Beowulf poet', but the Irish poet, playwright and translator Seamus Heaney wrote a prize-winning translation in 1999. It's a tale full of wonder and adventure, which we can't wait to begin! Each week we'll tell another 'episode', ending on a cliffhanger each time! With our older Dragons, we'll be improvising and devising around the themes of the story, using some extracts of the text to see where it leads us...
As if that wasn't enough, we'll also be launching a new endeavour this Autumn; our first foray into the world of publishing. In Summer 2022 our first ever anthology of Dragon Tales will be published, full to the brim with stories and illustrations by children, for children. The submission window is open as of Monday 13th September, and we'll be publishing each one as we believe every Dragon's input is something to be cherished and championed. The book will serve as a wonderful memento of The collective Dragon Drama imagination at this moment in time, and we intend to do one each year!
If you'd like to know more and to submit your story, email email@example.com
We'll also be running three Holiday Events this term, two day-long ones in October (Wolves go Wild and Bats go Bonkers) and one at Christmas which will result in a show (The Green Knight). All will take place at the beautiful Landmark Arts Centre. For more info do check out our events page!
If you've never been to Dragon Drama, now's the time to come along. We'll be opening our doors for the first two weeks of term (w/c 13th Sept and w/c 20th Sept) so come along and take your imagination for a wild ride! To reserve your place on one of these tasters email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘So, what have you been up to to pass the time?’ asks my friend, and I launch into the by now familiar run down of Netflix (seasons 1-8 of Homeland; seventy hours of television), exercise (a run every other day plus sporadic very unprofessional boxing sessions) and food. Lots of food.
‘Same’ she says, and we sigh collectively.
‘Oh yeah, and we’ve taken all of Dragon Drama online’ I add, remembering that my Thursday evenings, running back to back workshops from year seven up are the highlight of my lockdown week.
‘Wow!’ comes the inevitable response.
Wow indeed. We’ve always been ahead of the curve at Dragon Drama, our twenty seven years in the game proving that we know how to evolve to fit an ever changing landscape, but our response to Covid-19 has really been something to be proud of. A rapid response to an emergency situation, Dragon HQ came up with an battle plan within a week, testing online workshops with a handful of younger and older members, adapting our material to work on the Zoom platform, tweaking, rewriting and then launching for what we dubbed Digital Summer: an unprecedented term of virtual goodness, live in the homes of our Dragon Drama family. Frankly, we didn’t know if it would work. Could we get the same energy going that we can create in the theatre? Would kids be able to engage? Like so many of us have done during these uncertain times, we stepped out into the unknown armed with courage and determination…
And boy did it work! The response we’ve had to our online programme of workshops, plus the experience we’ve had running them, has been incredible. Sometimes an unusual situation leads you to discover something new about what you thought was familiar, what you’ve done a million times. Covid-19, and the psychologically testing circumstances it’s presented us with has made us realise that what drama provides is beyond extra-curricular and fun; it’s an essential part of well being. We wanted to present our findings and share our experience of how important play, stories, and engagement in a community are during this time (and beyond it!)
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” - Plato
As anyone who’s been a Dragon Drama workshop knows, play is the life-blood of what we do; it’s not only the substance of the workshops but the attitude we adopt, the atmosphere we create. And whilst being a LOT of fun, play goes deeper than we think. Plato foresaw the use of play as a valuable indicator of a person’s true self, and play therapy, pioneered in the 1950s by Carl Rogers and developed in the 1980s by Roger Phillips took the idea further by using play as a tool to shine a light on emotions and thoughts that might be unconsciously concealed. Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist known for his work in child development, said that "play provides the child with the live, dynamic, individual language indispensable for the expression of [the child’s] subjective feelings for which collective language alone is inadequate."
Sometimes how we’re feeling is hard to put into words. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re feeling. In a world of play, Dragons are able to master their environment, confront and release strong sentiments that they might not feel otherwise able to, and utilise their innate abilities to engage in a non-competitive, fun exercise or game with their peers. At Dragon Drama it doesn’t feel anything like therapy, but understanding that it has it’s use in this field makes a lot of sense to us. It explains why Dragons (and Dragon Workshop leaders!) feel so good after a workshop. During the lockdown we have felt a heightened sense of this, as we may at times experience a more pronounced sense of unease or anxiety, as well as limited outlet for these thoughts or feelings. Sometimes it’s good to let it all out!
“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” - Jean Luc Godard
Social distancing has been no match for Dragon Drama’s storytelling, with Rossy swooping into the homes of Big and Little Dragons alike every Tuesday at 3.30pm on Instagram Live. So far the stories of Brave Molly, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and the Viking God Thor have thrilled and comforted us in equal measure, providing an escape and a balm to the challenges and strangeness of isolation. As Joan Didion said, ‘we tell ourselves stories in order to live’, in order to make sense of the world, and that’s never been more vital than right now.
When we hear a story we each relate to a different aspect, we see ourselves in a character or behaviour, we cheer or boo according to how we’re feeling inside. So stories provide a kind of catharsis it’s hard to find elsewhere, a catharsis that scholar Calli Armstrong explores in her paper Finding catharsis in fairy tales: a theoretical paper exploring the roles catharsis plays when fairy tales are used in drama therapy.
In a world of instant entertainment, jumping out at us through all our screens, storytelling is a welcome antidote to the noise. We’ve been providing all our stories for free during the lockdown on our Patreon page, where you can listen to them again accompanied by our custom-composed theme music…
In 2018 the Government produced a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health. It reported that children and young people are twice as likely to report feeling anxious or depressed now as in the 1980s (Nuffield Foundation, 2012), and that sadly the UK’s children are not doing well compared to their international peers (the UK ranks 14th out of 15 countries for wellbeing in the Children’s Worlds study (Rees & Main, 2015). The good news is that it also reported that ‘Theatre, drama and group music making improve young people’s social skills and emotional wellbeing’ (Schellenberg, et al. 2015 & Hughes & Wilson, 2004), and that participating in arts lowers cortisol levels in blood stream (lowers stress) (Kreutz, et al. 2004).
The onset of Covid-19 has brought about an unprecedented scenario which presents challenges universally; circumstances which are a strain on the mental well being of us all. In providing drama as a lifeline during this crisis and beyond, Dragon Drama is proud to be a port in the storm for both those who struggle and those who don’t.
“The arts are such an important part of how we understand ourselves, how we laugh at ourselves, how we make sense of reality [...] it connects you more forcibly into life.” - Kate Tempest
Government Green Paper:
Calli Armstrong - Fairy Tales and Catharsis: https://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/975581/1/MR34732.pdf
Two children are playing a scene. It takes place within a school, with one child playing the role of Teacher, currently telling off one of their students. In 15 seconds, a spaceship is going to crash through the roof piloted by one mad scientist and a talking Ape.
Our original actors have no idea that this will happen, but to the casual observer their reactions will seem planned and rehearsed. This is part of the essence of what we facilitate at Dragon Drama. The ability to think on one's feet and not merely DEAL with the unexpected but to welcome it with open arms and adapt accordingly. An ability that we’ve all had to call upon recently.
With such uncertain times ahead of us this ability to improvise and adapt to new realities has proven itself to be invaluable. As have stories. The stories of ordinary people going above and beyond to help those in their communities. The stories of song erupting from Italian windows and bouncing down empty streets. The story of a 100 year old man raising millions to fund the NHS by walking around his garden. These stories have helped us to see the community that still exists at the end of all this.
This is why we’re so glad that we’ve managed to find a way to get Dragon Drama online! A space to
practice that skill of improvisation and adaptability whilst being immersed in stories seems like a good
approach when faced with an uncertain future. Here’s a quote from Keith Johnstone, a practitioner who
has deeply influenced our work at Dragon Drama:
“There are people who prefer to say 'yes'
and there are people who prefer to say 'no'. Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by
the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain.”
In our current situation we do not have to choose between adventure and safety. Staying safe IS the adventure. An adventure we are all on together.
We will do all that we can do to keep the Dragon Drama flag flying; always thinking of new ways to practice that skill of improvisation and adaptability and always thinking of ways to tell our stories. This blog will be an opportunity to follow along the journey while we do! We’ll post things we find interesting, any updates that are happening in Dragon Drama and basically ANYTHING that we think might be useful to get through this time.
Because we will get through it. And what a story we’ll have to tell at the end.
Hello to everyone at this strange time! This storm shall pass.
From an early age I have always loved the theatre, either watching or performing. It all started with me directing plays with childhood friends in the garden til at the age of thirteen I started to act professionally, first on stage and then on the television. I loved the whole world of the theatre; the actors and actresses. In those days there were three great knights of the theatre: Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud. The latter I had the privilege to meet. Sir John was a friend of my Godfather and one day I was taken by my Godfather to have lunch with him. During a very good luncheon he talked of his life in the theatre as I listened attentively...
I remember him saying he had been keen to break in to the new school of acting in the fifties as he had been seen to be very much from the old school. He was in a play being directed by one of these 'new school chaps' called Peter Brook (The Empty Space) and had enjoyed the early days of rehearsals experimenting with the text. Then one day he panicked and said to the director and cast, “All this feeling the emotions has been fun but when will we start rehearsing the play? We open in a few weeks!”
My Godfather received a letter from Sir John a few days later which said that he had enjoyed meeting me and wished me all the success in my acting career, but thought that my shortness of stature may be a difficulty. Well! Little did he know that at that time my shortness of stature was getting me a lot of work as I looked younger than my years which meant I was being cast as teenagers both on stage and on TV, even though I was getting well in to my twenties! A lot of actors who are short of stature do very well. So to our littler Dragons, do not let that be a hinderance to any of you. Remember, Tom Cruise is not that tall at all. Here I am as a young(er) man!
I leave you at this crazy time with a quote from my go to book at the moment. From ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charles Mackesy: 'When the big things feel out of control... focus on what you love right under your nose'