Underpinning drama education in New Zealand is the desire to improve the lives of individuals, communities and societies by catalysing embodied learning in and through the art form of theatre. Learning in drama is intended to foster well-being, social cohesion and active citizenship. Put another way, drama education in New Zealand has always been about more than training actors for the theatre stage. It has been about fostering the development of actors who engage in, on and with the world. This determination has led to the particular pedagogical and curricular response that frames how drama is taught in New Zealand.
In drama education in New Zealand we have focused for a generation on working practically to explore the nature of drama as a meaning making tool. Students not only study theatre by passively watching, they actively partake in framed fictional worlds and reflect on these embodied experiences. By engaging students in dramatic encounters, we argue drama education bears the potential to engage in critical and creative engagement with pivotal social issues in the real world (Anderson & O’Connor, 2015). The nature of the meaning making has seen a deliberate privileging of non-naturalistic forms of drama presentation and representation. Progression is understood in the curriculum as moving from exploration of narrative through imagined and social play at junior primary to understanding how to use conventions as dramatic structuring devices (Ministry of Education, 2007). This can be understood as a conventions approach (CA) to drama education. In this article we consider the pedagogical and theatre traditions that informed the New Zealand curriculum to contextualise the planned curriculum refresh in 2023.
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