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A School Theatre Festival Inspired Drama in Education in Chengdu China

Zhiren Theatre Festival in Tianfu No.7 High School Primary Section from 9th to 17th December 2021

· Drama in Education

Written by Miao Bin, the chief director of Zhiren Theatre Festival, Head of Art Education of Tianfu No.7 High School Primary Section

When the opening day of Zhiren Theatre Festival was finally successfully completed, I felt exhausted again. The last time I had the same feeling was when I managed the event of "Chinese Animation in Greece" in Athens a few years ago. I finally had some free time to sit in front of the window in the teachers' salon, watching the cars passing by at the crossroads outside down there, and the buildings under construction, and review my journey in this theatre festival.

When I designed the drama festival, I collected information about the theatre festivals in various primary and middle schools in the past, and found that almost all of them were basically each class had one performance on the same stage. However, my experiences in the theater festivals and various theater spaces in Greece made me I hard to be satisfied by such old-fashioned forms. At that time, Anaya Theatre Festival started in Beidaihe in North China. Although I couldn't be there, I still paid close attention to the every bit of the festival. I was attracted by the rich and diverse theatrical forms, avant-garde artistic concepts, interesting performance venues, etc. Then I searched for all the information about the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, which is currently the best theatre festival in China, as well as Avignon Theatre Festival, Berlin Theatre Festival, Athens and Epidaurus Festival, etc., and started to design our first theatre festival. 

I quickly built up the entire framework of the theatre festival which consists of four sections: environmental drama, cultural heritage, avant-garde drama, and future world. Each section includes rich content, such as readers’ theatre, dance theatre, improvisitional drama, evironmental drama reading, English drama, science fiction painting exhibition, rain painting exhibition, etc. The entire structure was then not changed since it was designed, but the content had been continuously revised during the preparation process.

Then I was aware of the difficulties. Compared with those mature theatre festivals, our students are only six or seven-year-old children in the first grade. Secondly, we have had drama classes for only two to three months. The foundation for the theatre festival was really weak. To be honest, at that time, I had no confidence, and who knows what this theatre festival would be like. Although I wanted to make the best and most innovative theatre festival in the schools, we may not even reach the average level in the end.

I even set higher requirements:

· The content of the theatre festival should come from our regular drama classes, rather than rehearsing a performance specifically for the festival. I communicated with the teacher-directors of the theatre festival about the framework two months in advance. The genre of each program was determined, but the content was not specified. The teacher-directors could select the material by themselves and design the material into their regular classes. The drama festival was still intended to serve the curriculum and learning process, rather than just focusing on the final results presented on stage.

· The venue of the theatre festival breaked through the traditional single stage, and turned the entire campus into stages everywhere. So I went to every corner of the school, and when I saw a suitable place, I gave it a name, such "Valley Theatre", "Cloud Theatre", "Incubation Theatre", etc. Later, Li Jie from A4 Art Museum helped us name the venue which I had been calling "Under the trees on the underground floor" to be "Tallowtree Theatre". It directly caused the increasing difficulty of organizing the theatre festival since all audiences have to constantly transit among different venues.

When I was about to name the entire drama festival, it took me quite some time, and finally "youxi" came to my mind. Image a Beijing guy sitting in a teahouse, slapped the table and said loudly, "this is youxi!” Right, that’s how it feels. Literally "youxi" means hope and promising in Chinese. I believe that this innovative school is youxi, our children are youxi, our drama in education is youxi and our theatre festival is youxi! 

During the preparation, most of the teacher-director had encountered difficulties, including myself. For example, "Poems" of environmental drama reading and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" of the readers' theatre. These two programs were in charge by two teachers of Chinese language, Yaqi and Qianqian. First of all, what is environmental drama reading and readers' theatre? What kind of material is suitable? How to direct? More and more problems came in front of them. The same also happened in Shijie’s dance theater "Me", Eley's English drama "Farmer Duck" and body percussion "A Day in Zhiren", and Yilei's musical instruments in daily life "Sound Creation". In addition to these dynamic ones, there were also static ones. Yuxia and Shanshan's Rain Painting Exhibition and Science Fiction Exhibition needed all the children of the school to participate, which requested a huge workload. There was also interdiciplinary program, such as Yuxia and Yaqi's evolution of Chinese characters "Ren", to integrate art and language. Although this process was difficult, it was an opportunity for the teachers' self-development. In addition to the performances performed by children, all exhibitions were guided by little commentators for the audience, so that children could truly become the protagonists of the festival.

Apart being as the chief director, I also needed to direct two programs with my students. From early November to early December, exactly one month. In order to let as many children as possible to participate, a total of 28 students which is equivalent to 1/10 of all the students in the school were invovled.

Of course, organizing a theatre festival was not only about the performances, but also various support. I really appreciated the cohesion and execution of the entire team of the school. The theatre festival was fully participated by all students, so the tutors of each class worked hard to bring the children into the joy of the festival. In addition, I must thank the parents, who have been very helpful and supportive in this festival, so I could concentrate on the preparation.  

My ideal theatre festival is that, all design, creation, performance, organization, etc., are done by students themselves. Everywhere in the campus is stage. Children perform spontaneously. The audience are scattered all over the campus, and there are theatre and drama everywhere. I believe this day will not be far away.

Improvisational theatre "Annual Rings"

Body Percussion "One Day in Zhiren"

Readers' Theater "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs"

Dance Theatre "Me"

Shadow Theatre "Houyi Shot the Suns"

English drama "Farmer Duck"

Musical Instruments in Daily Life "Sound Creation"

The Evolution of Chinese Characters "Ren"

Environmental Drama Reading "Poems"

Autumn Time Exhibition

Rain Painting Exhibition

Painting for Winter "Plums"

Science Fiction Exhibition "Future World"


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