Formal Evaluation of Everyday Theatre

In 2006 Child, Youth and Family contracted Dr Chris Holland of Work & Education Research & Development Services (WERDS) as an independent evaluator of Everyday Theatre in the Whangarei area. Below are key findings from that research:

  1. That Everyday Theatre is a unique programme which has provided an outstanding model of practice for creating a safe forum for young people to explore the issues surrounding family violence.
  • Students responded very positively to being actively engaged as people with ideas and even wisdom.
  • They met the challenge, making important connections between what they had learned and how this might help them, or how they might help their classmates in the future.
  • They talked, with compassion, of seeing their lives and those of their classmates differently. They changed, in small but perceptible ways, towards each other in the classroom and the school. This was true even of students who were perceived as ‘hardened’ or shy. The programme transformed behaviour.
  1. Positive effects of providing this forum for young people include:
  • The programme provided a respectful space for students to show and develop emotional wisdom;
  • As a direct result of the programme, there was a positive and notable change in students’ in-school behaviour towards others;
  • The work brought a greater awareness among students of services they could access in the community.
  1. That Everyday Theatre contributed to the impact of ‘Everyday Communities’ (a CYF-funded community awareness programme) in Whangarei:
  • The programme had a positive, and sometimes profound, impact on students, teachers and other adults who participated;
  • The delivery of the programme, and therefore how well it could affect the impact of ‘Everyday Communities’ can be compromised in some schools if its purpose, content and expectations, are not clearly communicated to teachers;
  • The programme can be strengthened by stronger brokering of the programme in the school and clearer linkage to ‘Everyday Communities’;
  • The programmes long term impact may be improved with stronger follow-up at classroom, school and community levels.

Responses to Everyday Theatre

I went to one class and there were some really difficult kids in that class and classic dilemmas and there were lots of behaviour problems in class but those kids were engaged. I was so surprised, I was amazed at these real hard boys who got right into actually being the counsellor, they took the role as a counsellor and got into role, I stood up and clapped.
A School Principal

… these people made it interesting. People get bored aye … if they just talked to us like normal [teachers].
A student.

 You had to really think about what was happening. It was challenging, you had to think in their shoes. You think about what they were saying and you really wanted to change the story.
A student.

The Lost BagThe Lost Bag

The five-year Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’s ‘Lost Bag’ project, coordinated by ATCo, worked with intermediate schools in the Auckland and Tai Tokerau regions. The Lost Bag used applied theatre to explore issues around why children run away from home (analogous to suicide issues) and received overwhelming support from the young people engaged in the project.

Student comments included:

  • Using drama and music to work out the problems. What a great idea!
  • I hadn’t done anything like that before. Ever.
  • I think that The Lost Bag is a great way to teach and that it would be magnificent to do it again
  • Every kid in New Zealand should have the opportunity to have this experience.

NZ50429Open the Loop

Waikato Public Health approached ATCo in August 2006 to develop a project similar to Everyday Theatre for in the Waikato region. This project was designed to use a similar model with middle school students to explore several issues: bullying – especially via cellphones, transitioning from one year level to another, especially between schools, and respectful relationships between young people. These issues were presented under the umbrella term of ‘youth resiliency’. ATCo co-contracted Kids 4 Drama to collaborate on scriptwriting, and to provide original music & lyrics. Kids 4 Drama also directed the scripted component, provided administration assistance, and assisted with quality control during the in-school run.

How Open the Loop worked

Open the Loop was framed by a performance where three teacher/actors, in role as teenagers, each purchase a ‘time traveller cellphone’. Each is unaware that it will take them back to moments in their lives where they were bullied, witnessed bullying, or were bullies themselves – we see the three ‘teenagers’ take each of these roles at different times through their school years. Each of the three ‘teenagers’ needed to be released from the relentlessly repeating ‘loop’ of their memories contained in their new cellphone – the role of participants was to discover why these moments were important to the ‘teenagers’, and what they might have done differently in a similar situation. A range of drama conventions was utilised to do this in a structured and safe way throughout the workshop session.

Evaluation of Open the Loop

Dr Chris Holland, who had recently evaluated Everyday Theatre, was contracted to independently evaluate Open the Loop. Key findings that relate to student and teacher perceptions of the programme include:

  • Students appreciated this unique opportunity to discuss these important issues with each other in a safe environment
  • The performance and workshops were well received by principals, teachers and students
  • Students felt they learned important understandings about themselves and each other as a result of the content and process of the drama work
  • The messages and understandings from the programme had been retained by students some weeks after the programme delivery
  • The performance and workshops were refined and improved throughout the project in terms of depth and managing literacy issues
  • The programme would have benefited from longer term engagement with the schools

Responses to Open the Loop

I thought it was really cool and made people help each other and we were put into teams and we thought with imagination and we tried our hardest

 I was surprised that we could talk to each other we don’t usually do that sort of thing. We shared ideas, and we had the time to. Like usually we don’t have that time

This is a really time that actually you need to think with each other, ‘cos it doesn’t happen much in our classroom

It’s different than maths questions and writing questions they were all different it’s like real life situations that you have to solve throughout life

 When asked about what they thought the messages of the programme were, students replied:

It sort of helps us with if we did get bullied for little things… and then you ask for help…

I think it’s: don’t be mean to friends and help each other

And also about being loyal to your friends

And even if your friends are in trouble you should try and get them out of the situation

They also recognized the importance of applying these messages to people who were not their friends:

You hang around with them every day I suppose they are just like people you know… you respect them exactly the same way as your friends

Everyone had their different little groups that they liked to be with…people who read books…you should treat other people with respect cos they are still people…

 I think this programme brought all of our, even if we aren’t best of friends it sort of brought us together – to try and participate as a group.

Four weeks after the programme, one boy commented:

The thing that you will remember when you grow old and something happens like that, you can go back and remember how we did this.