If cause and effect is not real , as the fragmentarians hope, then all actions are insignificant, and children must be excused from determining, as they read, what is significant and what is not, and from finding any significance at all in the apparently unconnected events of history; so also all mathematics must remain for them an impenetrable mystery. But, by “doing” drama, students learn, in their very muscles, to control each cause, to produce an effect: the gesture, the movement, the tone of voice, the word, so that it becomes clear how each causes a reaction: the fight, the exit. Each cue is cause for something to happen. Surely, students may learn cause and effect vividly through , say, hitting their brothers: punch causes punishment. Or, and better, the same huge pattern may be apprehended through acting out a role, being a cause, knowing ahead of time what effect must be caused , and then observing from within the play how one’s own actions do bring about change outside of oneself.
And we must continue, for what great matter is there that drama can not teach, since it exists to capture in small the Great Story itself? So, in drama, students experience something of the relationship between events and time. Things can happen more
than once. Indeed, repetition is an important and positive aspect of experience. So phrases and words and themes are repeated throughout a play to accentuate the underlying unity of what is being portrayed. In a farce, the underlining unity of ridiculousness might be punctuated by such a simple line as, “You rang?” In fact, mere repetition of the words themselves enhances understanding – it is simply true that human beings need to hear things more than once to remember them. That human beings need to hear again and again, that we need to do and experience again and again is often, by the merely modern, considered unfortunate: a flaw, or an impediment in the head-long rush to personal or societal progress . But a young child knows the satisfaction of having the same book read over and over. No poet is ashamed to repeat sounds within a work, and no musician, to repeat a motif. It is the fragmentarians, tossing their unconnected bits of experience behind them into oblivion, who have told us that repetition in the educational process impedes learning rather than enhances it. This they urge, even as they drill young soccer players daily in their skills and insist that their children practice their piano scales. Surely, mindless repetition blights education, but so also does a mindless parade of events- as-novelties. Is it not mindless to say of a Beethoven Symphony, “Heard that,” or of The Brothers Karamazov, “Read that”? Accurate imitations bear repetition and even require them that the Story behind and above them may be more fully apprehended. And that Story is replete with purposeful repetition: as the repetition of the seasons,
of morning and evening, and of the circling track of the stars. The child who learns a play, its words, its music, its movements , learns the fruit of repetition and learns to prize memorization of what is worthy. Each time he runs lines, a passage or a scene grows richer for him. Meaning becomes clearer. The whole is more interesting each time it is repeated, and in drama, every participating child learns first hand that memorization can make a thing of beauty and meaning, and make it his own, even as it makes language patterns that are new to him his own, and clear and vivid. By and large, children write and speak
as they hear. In drama, what they hear can be chosen for them and given to them in a way that technical instruction cannot emulate.
Aristotle wrote of drama evoking fear and pity from the audience, that is, fear and pity for those others depicted on the stage, and therein lies implicit the greatest advantage which drama provides in the instruction of a child. Drama draws him out of himself. He may at first force himself to do this embarrassing business of speaking, moving, singing or dancing, simply because all the others are doing it. So he will force himself past his own self- consciousness, if only for fear that by failing to do so, he will draw more attention to himself rather than less. Even on this lowest level, to make himself secure, he must set himself aside. And, indeed, he must, for if he does not, the others will surely let him know what he has spoiled by
his absence. And “spoiled” in fact, for if the play could go on without his part, it is a flawed play; Aristotle is quite right: “That which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.” Plainly, in any good drama, there are no unimportant parts.
But beyond this, the child who participates in drama learns to set himself aside, not only for the sake of his popular appeal , but also for the sake of the character he represents . This child learns to say, “I am a boy, but since I am to be a kangaroo, I must not act like a boy. I cannot walk as I please; I must hop. I must lose myself in kangarooisms, and to the best of my ability, forget who I am in myself.” For the sake of the character , a child cannot simply assert. “I don ‘t talk with a Southern accent. I am a New Englander.” He must leave his own speech patterns and drawl instead. On the way, he learns about himself in a way that leads far from self-absorption. Rather, he learns who he is and how he habitually acts, so that he can consciously choose to “leave himself” and act with self-control. As a precious side-product, he learns that his feelings of chilliness, puckishness, or itchiness (or loneliness, anger, or jealousy) need not dictate his behavior. “I am timid,” he may discover; “but as this character, I need to behave as someone who is overbearing.” And the freedom he finds may be life-long. At the very least, the next time he needs to be quiet or to be amiable, he will know that his behavior is a matter of his own choice.
But above all, the child who has taken part in drama learns to leave himself not only for the sake of his peers, nor for the sake of his character, but simply, for the sake of the truth. He learns to say not, “Look at me,” but rather, “look at this,” that is, the play. In order to imitate the event chosen from the Great Story, the actor forgets himself and everything that would impede the understanding of the audience, that they may know, learn, and be delighted by whatever part of the Great Story is being represented before them. In his way, he is like the parent sacrificing sleep for the infant, the soldier sacrificing his life for the common good. Indeed, it is training for such acts which echoes and portrays the highest event of the Great Story.
To lose oneself in and for the truth of the Story: this is the highest lesson drama can teach. In drama the child learns that what is larger than he is objective, and that he may enter it, whether we speak of historical drama teaching him the objective reality of history, or of comedy teaching him the objective reality of our finiteness and frequent folly. Either way, he has set himself aside
in search of what is outside him. He has practiced that selflessness which makes objectivity possible. If he has dared, he has come to know that the Story is not centered on him, but that in comprehending it he may take his place in it. And he knows he must. The Author has written him in.
Event on event, character after character enters the stage and nothing is random; there is an author with a purpose, to which the actors must yield. There is order and meaning in the whole, which the actors in every word and movement must serve. Whatever is not of the play hinders the Author’s intent and is mere distraction and obscurity, and must be denied . So students who
have experience in drama understand the call to leave themselves behind to seek and serve the Author’s purpose. They have rehearsed it. They have learned to dismiss and refuse what does not serve the telling of the Author ‘s tale, even if it be in themselves.
And if it is true that we are all born , in Luther’s phrase, incurvatus in se, that is, coiled on ourselves, it is
hard to imagine a means of education more useful than drama, by which we may not only imitate and learn
the patterns of the Great Story, but also be drawn out of ourselves to know and act within that Story now, in the present ignorance, until ignorance ends and imitations are needless and we enter the endless happy ending .