Teaching Playwriting: Dramaturgy, Creativity, and Agency

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Paul Gardiner

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

This thesis reports on the findings of my study into playwriting pedagogy in NSW secondary schools. Utilising a comparative case study approach, the phenomenological study aimed to gather data on the experience of teachers and students engaged in playwriting pedagogy for the New South Wales Higher School Certificate Drama examination. The research, initially focusing on the impact of performance theory on the teaching and learning experience, revealed the need to attend not only to dramaturgy, but also to the related concepts of agency, creativity, engagement and the teacher-student dynamic.

The research findings reflect a reluctance to engage in theory based pedagogy and the teachers adopted what I have called the Noble Savage approach. The teachers, seeing themselves as facilitators rather than teachers, expressed a reluctance to engage in specific teaching in an attempt to protect the students’ independence and original creative voice. The experience of pedagogy observed also revealed that playwriting provided students with an opportunity to demonstrate and develop skills in agency, encouraging them to think deeply and ‘imagine new worlds’ (Freire, 1974). It also provided the students with an opportunity to engage in a creative and independent writing task unique in these students’ school experience. However, my study also observed that the benefits of agency and creativity were not supported by the Noble Savage approach. This thesis argues that current playwriting pedagogy is adversely affected by a conception of creativity that is not supported by some creativity theory.

Examining the experiences through Csikszentmihalyi’s (2008) concept of flow, this research identified the importance of skill development in creative tasks and the associated need for rigorous teaching and learning to maintain engagement and skill development. The research also found that despite the professed Noble Savage approach, the teachers were dissatisfied with their practice and upon reflection considered a more structured and theory informed approach would have been more effective.

The thesis concludes that greater engagement with theory and the semiotics of theatre will not only improve student proficiency in playwriting practice, but will improve the benefits to students’ agency, creativity and engagement and improve the students’ and teachers’ experience of playwriting pedagogy.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Michael Anderson