• Presence that makes a difference: cultivating a transformative agency in education through research-based applied theatre and drama

      Bragby, Kerstin (University of ChesterUniversity of Chester, 2019-08-14)
      Applied theatre and drama (ATD), defined as an ecology of practices in a variety of fields, is often attributed with the transformative outcomes integral to social change achieved through co-processual art. However, how the nature of transformative learning and change is activated in practice is hard to establish. In this thesis, activation centres on re-cultivation of the core of different professional roles, identities and learning cultures embedded in the disruptive crises and questions of our time. It involves; renewing professional motivation, skills and cocreative performativity in alignment with sustainable inclusion of competition, oppositions, conflicts and systemic demands from a changing world. The thesis explores how cultivated sensitivities, competences and sociality in ATD processes, originating in devised actor and ensemble training and progressive pedagogies, can activate transformative adult learning. Central concepts used are fictional frames in role-taking, improvisation and staging. These allow for self-mirroring one’s own socio-culturally individual and collective enactment as spect-actor; making explicit, the intra- inter- and transsubjective contextuality that otherwise would remain implicit. Transparency and negotiation allow for de- and re-construction, spontaneous re-combination, rehearsal and actualization of alternative realities. A triangulated- socio-cultural systemic and ATD theoretical framework is used to analyse how the generative socio-aesthetic practice of ATD can re-cultivate knowledge process’. This thesis takes the form of an action research project over an 8-year period, a multi-method study of four cases aspiring to socially innovate professional and educational process. The four cases focus in turn on; teachers, female entrepreneurs, adults with functional variations, my own educational and professional trajectory as theatre actress and university teacher. The primary research approach is practice-led research-based ATD informed by a spectrum of social science methods used to develop an interfacing pedagogical, co-learning, co-creative, and co-researching methodology. Inspired by Scharmers systemic view of an advanced tridirectional approach to social science this intertwines the constitution of knowledge, reality and self as a coherent framework. Phenomenologically this involves observing the firstperson’s individualized consciousness and the evolution of self when active in co-creative involvement; it is concerned with engaging collective dialogic conversing social fields in second-person social transformation. Action research connects third person science through embodying and representing the internalised actual enactment of institutional patterns and structures. The findings indicate that these expanded ATD-processes can establish collaborative trust and social explorative creativity through serious playfulness with personal and collective difficulties, excitements, and adversities. These are conceptualised as pedagogical entrances that allow for the cultivation of subtle and complex qualities of presence, meta-awareness and advanced co-inquiring observations. The individual and collective improvisational skills emerge as critical and creative social re-imaginings that can feed transformative learning; raising awareness and critical perspectives, shifting points and frames of references that help re-frame pre-assumptions, habitual blind spots and behaviours and negotiate new meaning and understanding. A core cultivated social capacity is identified, resembling theatre actor’s stage-self, transmittable to different professional regimes. It is defined as a transformative agency, experienced as an expanded centred sense of omni-presence, distributed self and identity. It allows a flexible, improvisational mind-full and socially reciprocal character to emerge.