Stage Ed­u­ca­tion in China

The pro­mo­tion of drama ed­u­ca­tion is not aimed at cul­ti­vat­ing the­atri­cal pro­fes­sion­als such as di­rec­tors, ac­tors and play­wrights; rather, it is a way to in­spire ev­ery child to par­tic­i­pate and have fun.

China Pictorial (English) - - Front Page - Text by Gong Haiy­ing

On April 2, 2018, Bei­jing’s most pres­ti­gious pro­fes­sional the­ater, the Bei­jing Peo­ple’s Art Theatre (BPAT) and the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion jointly es­tab­lished the Bei­jing Cam­pus Theatre Ed­u­ca­tion Al­liance (BCTEA), aiming to pop­u­lar­ize the­atri­cal cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion across Bei­jing’s cam­puses, rang­ing from pri­mary schools to col­leges.

The first group of BCTEA mem­bers in­cludes 27 schools and school dis­tricts across Bei­jing. Af­ter join­ing the al­liance, these schools will in­cor­po­rate drama ed­u­ca­tion into their daily aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion. Through pro­fes­sional guid­ance, drama ed­u­ca­tion will be­come a nat­u­ral sup­ple­ment to qual­ity-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion.

“Thanks to the es­tab­lish­ment of the al­liance, our theatre can per­form bet­ter and more sys­tem­atic ed­u­ca­tional work and bring drama to the cam­pus to ben­e­fit more chil­dren,” BPAT di­rec­tor Ren Ming said.

Ac­cord­ing to Ren, the BPAT will join hands with many schools in the fol­low­ing ways:

First, the BPAT will bring its pro­duc­tions to those schools. The first stop will be Ts­inghua Univer­sity.

Sec­ond, artists and the­atri­cal pro­fes­sion­als from the BPAT will give lec­tures on cam­pus and help stu­dents re­hearse plays.

More­over, stu­dents can visit venues such as Bei­jing Cap­i­tal Theatre, BPAT Mu­seum and Juyin Theatre, all of which are open to the pub­lic. Stu­dent vis­i­tors can sit in on re­hearsals and par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous drama ac­tiv­i­ties.

More than a decade ago, artists from the BPAT first be­gan to go to var­i­ous schools to pro­mote drama. They es­tab­lished drama ed­u­ca­tion bases in two se­condary schools, and reg­u­larly sent per­son­nel there to teach var­i­ous classes and or­ga­nize re­hearsals.

In an in­ter­view, Tang Ye, a well­known di­rec­tor with the BPAT, pointed out: “The pro­mo­tion of drama ed­u­ca­tion is not aimed at cul­ti­vat­ing the­atri­cal pro­fes­sion­als such as di­rec­tors, ac­tors, and play­wrights; rather, it is a way to in­spire ev­ery child to par­tic­i­pate and en­joy the fun.”

“We set up teach­ing groups and ar­range a clas­sic reper­toire for schools al­most ev­ery two years,” added

Tang. “Be­fore re­hearsals, we in­struct stu­dents to read the orig­i­nal texts of the Chi­nese clas­sics. We want to get them in­ter­ested in read­ing the plays.”

Tang Ye serves as a part-time tu­tor at the Ex­per­i­men­tal School Af­fil­i­ated to Haid­ian Teach­ers Train­ing Col­lege. “If we want to ar­range a pro­duc­tion of Cao Yu’s drama Home, for in­stance, we will first en­cour­age the stu­dents to read the script and show them the orig­i­nal novel by Ba Jin, the au­thor, along­side other works from the same pe­riod. The best way to get closer to the char­ac­ters and un­der­stand their mo­ti­va­tion is to learn about what was go­ing on in that era.”

Through such drama ed­u­ca­tion bases, how can these in­sti­tu­tions pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional re­sources that ben­e­fit ev­ery stu­dent?

“Ev­ery year, the school ar­ranges a pro­duc­tion of a drama—ei­ther a clas­sic or stu­dents’ orig­i­nal,” Tang con­tin­ued. “Ev­ery stu­dent in classes from first through sixth grades is re­quired to read scripts, write a re­ac­tion pa­per and choose scenes to re­hearse or de­sign around. Some­times tu­tors from the BPAT, in­clud­ing my­self, help the school drama troupe re­hearse a scene with stu­dents watch­ing, so they can see the dif­fer­ence. It’s a process of broad­en­ing their hori­zons. There is no good or bad.”

Du Ming­cong, a freshman at Bei­jing No. 166 Mid­dle School, an­other drama ed­u­ca­tion base launched by the BPAT, is a ben­e­fi­ciary.

“Learn­ing the script and per­form­ing has made me more con­fi­dent in other as­pects of my life and helped me un­der­stand lit­er­a­ture more pro­foundly,” Du as­serted.

“We usu­ally meet once a week at a fixed time,” she con­tin­ued. “The teacher ex­plains the con­tent and teaches us ba­sic skills. Some­times we will re­hearse scenes from our fa­vorite dra­mas on week­ends.”

“Teach­ers from the BPAT once di­rected our re­hearsals of Adream of Red­man­sions, one of China’s four most-revered clas­sics along­side re­hearsals of Shake­speare’s com­edy A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, lead­ing us deep into the sto­ries and char­ac­ters.”

China’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­form in qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion in the early 1990s trig­gered grow­ing at­ten­tion to aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion such as drama and mu­sic.

“The pur­pose of set­ting up an al­liance is to ex­plore how to max­i­mize our drama ed­u­ca­tion re­sources,” said Wang Jun, di­rec­tor of the Phys­i­cal and Artis­tic Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment of the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion.

The sit­u­a­tion is not as op­ti­mistic as the founders of the al­liance would like it to be. One con­cern is how to build drama ed­u­ca­tion into the main­stream in more schools.

“Each school’s phi­los­o­phy and needs are dif­fer­ent,” Tang Ye ad­mit­ted. “And we lack suit­able sys­tem­atic text­books, not to men­tion teach­ers.”

The in­te­gra­tion of drama into school teach­ing orig­i­nated from the ed­u­ca­tional con­cepts of French thinker and ed­u­ca­tor Jean-jac­ques Rousseau (1712-1778): “learn­ing in prac­tice” and “learn­ing in the prac­tice of drama.”

Af­ter World War II, West­ern coun­tries con­tin­ued to ex­plore the the­o­ries and prac­tice of ed­u­ca­tional the­ater and drama. Drama ed­u­ca­tion in many coun­tries has now been in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized and stan­dard­ized. For ex­am­ple, Bri­tain for­mally in­cluded the­atri­cal events as part of the na­tional English cur­ricu­lum stan­dards. The United States has al­ready formed a com­plete drama ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem cov­er­ing kinder­gartens, ele­men­tary and se­condary schools, and even col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

In early 20th-cen­tury China, just a few years af­ter West­ern drama was in­tro­duced, Zhang Bol­ing (1876-1951), a fa­mous con­tem­po­rary ed­u­ca­tor, adopted West­ern the­ater ed­u­ca­tion ideas and used drama as a way to nur­ture tal­ent and im­prove so­ci­ety, lead­ing China to in­cor­po­rate drama into the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

Since then, many Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tors have fol­lowed suit, prac­ticed his ideas and used drama to fa­cil­i­tate var­i­ous kinds of so­cial ed­u­ca­tion.

For ex­am­ple, fa­mous Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tors Tao Xingzhi and Yan Yangchu used drama as a pow­er­ful, ef­fec­tive means of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and spared no ef­forts to ac­cel­er­ate the­ater cam­paigns among farm­ers.

How­ever, there are still some con­cerns: How should China de­velop drama to­day and uti­lize the ed­u­ca­tional func­tion of drama? How should drama veer off the stage, en­ter so­ci­ety, and go pub­lic with the help of mod­ern me­dia?

From the con­cepts in­tro­duced by Zhang Bol­ing to ex­ten­sive and wide­spread ef­forts in teach­ing and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple through the use of the­atri­cal forms, drama ed­u­ca­tion still has a long way to go in China.

A still from the drama A Dream of Youth. Ev­ery year, the Ex­per­i­men­tal School Af­fil­i­ated to Haid­ian Teach­ers Train­ing Col­lege re­hearses a drama un­der the guid­ance of artists from the Bei­jing Peo­ple’s Art Theatre.

Tang Ye (right), a well-known di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing Peo­ple’s Art Theatre, di­rects a scene.

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