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Act I Scene I

India and Toronto Integrated Piece

Voices on Both Sides of ‘the Doors’: Canadian and Indian Students Make Sense Through Drama


Kathleen VO 1: My research in the last few years has brought my team and I to drama classrooms around the world, including classrooms at Middleview Secondary School in Toronto, Canada and Prerna School in Lucknow, India.  While speaking about drama with students and teachers, observing their classrooms and facilitating conversations between the participants across these two sites, we have found that drama classrooms can be unique and unpredictable environments, constantly in flux. Perhaps we should begin where the classes begin. Ms. S is a drama teacher at Middleview and her class always begins with the lives and experiences of her students.  Giving her students the opportunity to share stories with one another is at the heart of her teaching.


Clip: Naomi drawn to people’s lives


Kathleen VO 2: In the time that we spent with Ms. S’ class, she framed her curriculum around a project she called ‘the Doors project’, which gave her students a chance to reflect on the experiences they’ve had in their lives, using the metaphor of a door  - a door as a threshold, a closed door, an open door. Students wrote their own scripts for short scenes, which they then performed as a larger piece for their school.  She explained to us why she chose this project and how she carried it out.


Clip: Naomi feels its powerful for youth to hear each others stories


Kathleen VO 3:  Belle, a student in Ms. S’ class, spoke to one research assistant about her overall experience in the “Doors Project.”


CLIP: C Talks about playing a lesbian and seeing life from another’s shoes

Clip: C Nice to have each others support


Kathleen VO 4: Many, but not all of the students, found the drama class a positive and transformative experience because of the connections they made with one another.


Clip: C got nervous and danced before a show, someone joined in


Kathleen VO 5: My team was also fortunate to visit Prerna school, which was founded in 2003 to support disadvantaged girls from urban slums in Lucknow.  Prerna serves girls from pre-school to grade 12. Girls who would otherwise not attend school, and even though my team and I found that the school was extremely different from Middleview on so many levels, students there were also encouraged by their teachers and the school’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Urvashi Sanhi, to use drama as a forum for discussing issues in their lives together. At Prerna, drama is infused in many of the classes that the girls take and commonly starts with something they call critical dialogues that address concerns in their lives.  Ms. K, a teacher at the school, explained the importance of these dialogues and the drama that came from them


Clip: Drama as cornerstone – girls take up issues… 


Kathleen VO 6: The focus on students’ lives is a deliberate choice made by Ms. S and educators and Dr. Sanhi at Prerna.  At Prerna, it’s a result of the shift in the school’s philosophical underpinnings.  When Prerna began in 2003, Dr. Sahni realized that even though they were providing an affordable school for girls from local slums who were disadvantaged on so many levels, there were still significant issues that these girls faced in getting to school, staying in school and overcoming the many forces of oppression in their lives.


Clip: Urvashi 3 The Reasons for starting Prerna + Clip: Urvashi 1 Stats on dropouts and literacy


Kathleen VO 7: Considering those statistics, Dr. Sahni realized that it was necessary for the school to shift from being based on learning outcomes to life outcomes to better address issues of gender inequality and the injustices the girls’ faced. Prerna, therefore, adopted a critical feminist pedagogical and philosophical approach. 


Clip: Urvashi 7 Deliberately focus on making it a universe of care


Kathleen VO 8: Dr. Sahni focuses on helping the girls develop agency in their lives through a critical feminist curricula, so that they can overcome the struggles they face.


Clip: Urvashi 10 focus deliberately on helping girls resist


Kathleen VO 9: We had the opportunity to sit in on these critical dialogues as well and saw first-hand how the girls’ voice and begin to imagine new realities in their lives.


Clip: Urvashi saying the girls have no rights, no responsibilities but their kitchen


Girl: Auntie, they don’t know their rights – women.

Urvashi: They don’t know their rights and they don’t know their responsibilities. They don’t know that they have social responsibilities.

Girl: [speaks in Hindi]

Urvashi [translates]: Ah, one responsibility – my kitchen, which is important, but that’s the only responsibility they know.


Kathleen VO 10: After only a short period of time at Prerna, it became obvious that this change in the school has benefitted all students. There is an unwavering sense of connection, community and safety that students feel in their classrooms. Making drama together and from the material of their lives is integral to this feeling. Students, including Laxmi Nishad, shared with us how grateful they are for the opportunities they have at Prerna, especially  for engaging in drama.  During our visit, Dr. Sahni translated many of our conversations with the girls including this conversation with Laxmi…


Clip: Laxmi explain how prerna has supported her

Transcript of end of what Laxmi says: It was tough to see the dreams, become so anything.  Urvashi: She says I am able to have dreams and know that I will become… Laxmi: what I have.


Kathleen VO 11: The idea that drama gave the girls at Prerna a voice for the first time in their lives came up in many other conversations with the students as well. Prerna students, Preeti, Kushboo and Laxmi told us why they valued the critical dialogues and the drama they created at Prerna.


Clip: Girls explaining what they get out of critical dialogues + drama – girls understand differently


Girl: Because it is always related to our lives, so we can share easily and give our views on that… We learn more things about [speaks Hindi and Urvashi translates] Auntie we also get different ideas in that. How we solve one problem in a different aspect.


Kathleen VO 12:  This conversation at Prerna reminded me of a conversation I had with Ms. S in Toronto about why she was drawn to working with teenagers through drama. 


Clip: Naomi why she is drawn to high school


Kathleen VO 13: And this opportunity to share personal stories is something that Belle values as well.


CLIP: C * you have to give a bit of yourself to get something back


Kathleen VO 14: At Prerna, students had the opportunity to create a one-minute digital story about their lives and she courageously opened up about her own difficult life.  Since that time many other students have joined her in speaking out against domestic violence.


CLIP: Laxmi narrative


Kathleen VO 15: Laxmi also speaks about her Dad being an alcoholic who does not financially or emotionally support his family in her narrative. She had a tremendous impact on her peers because she spoke out about something that is typically not spoken about


CLIP: Urvashi 14 Laxmi’s movie shown, oppressive forced in public and private


Kathleen VO 16: This conversation is reflective of the fact that in it’s own way, the “Doors Project” was taken up by the students at Prerna after they watched the Middleview performance online.  Throughout my research, I have encouraged the students and teachers that I have worked with to share their work and thoughts with one another.  After Ms. S uploaded a video of “The Doors” final performance at Middleview to her class blog, Dr. Sanhi decided to show it to students at Prerna.  From there, the Prerna girls wrote poems that were based on the metaphor of' doors' in their lives and combined these poems to create a larger performance called Darwaze. The first act of the performance told the story of Khushboo, a Prerna student being refused the right to an education because of the pressures of child marriage. Dr. Sahni explained to us the process and the outcome of creating this piece.


CLIP: Urvashi 9 example of critical dialogues 


Kathleen VO 17:  Ms. S also took the time to explain to us her perceptions of the class’ engagement and the outcomes of students being involved in creating the “Doors Project” in her classroom.


CLIP: Naomi Audio – powerful when students create things.


Kathleen VO 18:  Speaking to Ms. S also helped us to think differently about the idea of student engagement.


CLIP:  Context Kathleen talking about Naomi’s students being engaged.


Kathleen VO 19: While so much of what we have presented so far reflects the positive aspects of a drama classroom, at both schools, we saw many as well examples where drama presented challenges. While students at Prerna seemed to experience fewer challenges in drama and expressed great enthusiasm for it, they still found performance and self-expression tough at times


CLIP: Laxmi Can’t always express herself Transcript of what Laxmi says in English: Sometimes I can’t show emotions.


CLIP: Girl can’t speak at home + Urvashi translating that girls don’t really speak a lot in families.


Kathleen VO 20: In Toronto, tensions and negative peer relationships in the classroom sometimes led to disappointment and disengagement.


CLIP: C embarrassment going in front of school


Kathleen VO 21: And for some students, like Belle, despite all the good things that happen within their drama classroom and how much effort they put into it, it can still sometimes feel like an unproductive, unreliable and even chaotic environment.


CLIP:  C frustrated with her peers, when they drop out, etc.


Kathleen VO 22:  Ms. S, of course, feels many of these same challenges. 


CLIP:  Naomi audio – has to fight to produce anything in her school


Kathleen VO 23: For Ms. S., while creating such an extensive and personal project with students is exciting work, it is also emotional terrain that can thwart communication and try relationships.  Here’s an excerpt from one of her “Doors” rehearsals, which features a difficult exchange with her student Derek.


CLIP: “Are you planning on creating this character…” 


Kathleen VO 24: In an interview with us after the rehearsals and the performance, Ms. S. explained that while she largely felt that most of the students were engaged on a daily basis, moments like that one- with Derek really took a toll on her and on the classroom.


CLIP: Naomi Audio – explaining Taz moment


CLIP: Naomi Audio – explaining Taz moment 2


Kathleen VO 25: And we saw that mercurial nature because despite the bad rehearsal day he had, Derek decided to rejoin the Doors Project and take a part on stage playing the role of Heaven in his peer, Erica’s piece. Erica, who is Belle’s best friend, told her personal story of coming out as a lesbian, but feeling condemned by her religion. And while Derek participated, not everything in the performance for the school went smoothly.


CLIP: Erica’s speech in the doors project


Kathleen VO 26: While this was a painful moment to witness, we realized that much was also going on for Derek. He was strategically distancing himself from a scene that appeared to support a 'gay' character.  He undermined the scene for a laugh. This is complicated emotional terrain.  The stakes were simply too high and schools, despite great progress, are still places seeped in homophobia. The relationship between social roles and artistic representation are sometimes too close.


CLIP:  Naomi speaking about sabotaging


Kathleen VO 27: When we spoke to Erica after the performance it became clear to us just how important the “Doors Project” had been to her.


CLIP: Shelby nervous to go on stage, peers reaction


Kathleen VO 28:  When we told her how terrible we thought it must have been to experience the laughter from the audience as a result of Derek’s comment, we were surprised by how forgiving she was, suggesting that we might be reading too much into the situation. What really mattered was that she had been able to get up in front of her peers and tell her story.


CLIP: Shelby interview what it was like to share a personal story


Kathleen VO 29: And when we asked her what she thought of her classmates’ participation in the “Doors Project”, specifically for the students who were sabotaging, she reflected candidly.


CLIP: Shelby what she thought about her classmates acting out.


Kathleen VO 30: In further discussions with Ms. S, it occurred to us that maybe Erica’s ability to let it go and see the greater good in her experience was influenced by Ms. S’ resilience and daily responses to the challenges in the class as well.


CLIP: how is drama teaching different than other teaching  


Kathleen VO 31:  Shelby underscores the different pedagogical space of the drama classroom.


CLIP: Shelby in drama classroom you get asked about your life 


Kathleen VO 32: Given what Ms. S experiences on a day-to-day basis, she is left with many questions about her role in the classroom.


CLIP: Naomi Audio – has to fight to produce anything in her school


Kathleen VO 33: For a student like Erica, the effort that Ms. S puts into her drama class is definitely worth it. In an interview, Erica told us how much she appreciates the connection Ms. S created in her classroom. 


Clip: June 3, 2009 – Shelby Interview


Clip: Shelby what she thought about Ms. S.


Kathleen VO 34:  As researchers, we have been privy to the experiences, the feelings and the thoughts of drama students and drama educators living and learning in diverse urban schools, beyond the familiar salvation narratives of the arts. It has been a privilege to observe a teacher like Ms. S who is prepared to face her own struggles alongside her students. In the same way, we were also fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to many young people, like Belle, Erica and Laxmi, about their experiences in drama classrooms and their views have shaped our understanding over the last few years. We have learned from our participants that life in drama classrooms is living at the extremes. It is often troubling and remarkable at the same time as teachers and students together strive to communicate and make art.



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