More Than Just Acting

by Kenji Maeda on January 7, 2009

Originally published in the Vancouver Actor’s Guide October 2007 newsletter.


It’s been known that acting is an effective method to share a story – whether fiction or not. You see it on tv, in a movie theatre, on stage, or even in the day-to-day interactions you have with people around you. Sure they may not be “acting”, per se, but there’s a story there.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) Conference which was held here in Vancouver. With workshops, seminars, performances, discussions, and keynotes the conference was packed full of people who work with aspects of theatre, education, or a combination of the two in their school, community, or as workshop facilitators across North America and around the world.

Using the arts to affect change, to educate, or to promote dialogue around community issues seemed to be at the forefront of many of the sessions. The use of drama or participatory activities in all aspects of education was also discussed by many.

Jason Zanitsch, a PhD Candidate at New York University and a high school teacher in Brooklyn faciliated a session titled “Examining School Violence and the ‘Outcast’ Mentality through Process Drama“. To give some context, Process Drama is the use of improvisations and theatre activities for dramatic exploration. The focus of is not to present a finished product, but instead to explore an issue or theme through dramatic work.

The issue of school violence and bullying has been highlighted in the recent years. By allowing participants to safely explore the feelings of isolation, distrust, and confusion, Zanitsch leads them to create a tableau and the further discuss what and how individuals and the community might be able to prevent future violence.

Some of you may recognize Meghan Gardiner. She is a Vancouver actor and writer who graduated from UBC Theatre. Her stunning one-woman show, Dissolve, all started from a class assignement. Dissolve is an energetic, yet disturbing play which explores the issues around GHB an odourless and generally tasteless drug – more commonly known as the Date Rape Drug. The play brings attention to the stigma and ignorance about this drug in a way that entertains, educates, and a message that sticks with many of the audience members. To learn more about her or the play, go to

Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama, and Learning is a book by Lynn Fels and George Belliveau, both of whom teach in the Faculty of Education at UBC. Belliveau was on hand to lead participants through an example of how drama can play a role in education. French colonists immigrated to Acadia only to be exiled during the war by the British in 1755. Participants become part of those Acadian families and through scenarios are given the task of how to respond to the deportation order. As each family makes a decision, participants use image work and discussions to move from one scene to the next. By allowing students to learn through a different set of eyes – learning from the inside out rather than the outside in – it can help broaden their understanding of the topic.

Other such experiential learning activities include Behind the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, which was developed to better understand internationa AIDS issues and the links between HIV/AIDS, social inequity, and poverty.

Carole Tarlington (Casting Director), Jerry Wasserman (Actor, Writer, Teacher), Christopher Gaze (Bard on the Beach), Elizabeth Ball (City Counsellor, Producer, Director), Carole Miller (UVic), and Julianna Saxton (UVic) and other noteable local and international keynotes, presentations, and workshops were held for during the conference.

How to break down characters – “peel the onion” – is an important part of understanding the character’s actions and knowing that it can and is being used for more than just entertainment is still not widely utilised to its full potential. But at least it’s happening.

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