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“Act Non-Formal”: using drama methods as part of non-formal education

Emilia - 24/04/2017 - 0 comments

Motto: “Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves.” (Augusto Boal)

Erasmus+ training course
16 – 24 March 2017
St. Andreasberg, Germany
Host organization: NaturKultur e.V., Germany
Trainers: María Díaz Durillo, Mohammed Awwad
Organizers: Svenja Oltmanns, Slobodan Đurović, Branimir Suk, Juraj Tomljanović


If anybody had asked me some time ago if I want to go in an Erasmus+ project that might as well be about theatre, drama and acting just by looking at the name, I would have said “no”. I am never comfortable in most public situations: I avoid asking foreigners for directions on the street, I’d rather take the stairs than share an elevator, and I wear headphones in public because I don’t want to be asked questions. So, acting/speaking/singing/dancing in front of an audience? Where I can be put into embarrassing situations or make a fool of myself? Oh, boy, it still tickles when I even think about such dangerous situations.

But since I was already acquainted with NaturKultur team from another project, I decided to explore my social limits in a safe and familiar space, by participating this project. And with the help of my good friend, Emilia, the president of our Monomyths Association, this was possible, in exchange of representing the NGO and establish potential partnerships for future projects.

Upon arrival in Germany, I was joined by other three awesome Romanian teammates, to form the full team and I was already excited about this project before it even began. I no particular order, we had Alexandra Hîrlavu, a dedicated art teacher from the School of Fine Arts “Hans Mattis-Teutsch”, Brașov, Alina Ionescu, both an established vocalist at “G. Enescu” Philharmonic of Bucharest, and a Project Manager in another NGO, ASRA, and Ljiljana Kostandinović, an English language and literature teacher. All of them have an established experience in formal and non-formal teaching methods to youngsters, so by joining this project we set out to add a new tool to our toolbox: using drama and theatre in non-formal education.

The project took place in the secluded town of St. Andreasberg, which annoyed me at first with the eerily quietness, but Svenja and Slobodan were on point when picking it as the location: it proved to be a great choice for keeping the project participants together and away from the usual big city distractions. The venue was a proper “gruppenhaus”, with many shared facilities, but equipped with everything we needed for a self-sufficient stay of one week. Branimir and Juraj provided us with everything we asked them from the shop, cooked awesome meals and made the place feel like home.

Most days revolved around chatty meals in the dining rooms, project activities, intercultural evenings and teambuilding during the evening, next to a glass of wine and a brand new activity, with a cultural touch to it. No matter if I think about karaoking on Italian songs, learning Greek dances, drinking Spanish sangria, competing in a trivia contest about interesting Estonian facts, and the list continues, the entire week was a journey. A journey is also what María and Mohammed had in mind throughout the personal learning process, but more on this later.

Being a training course, the learning opportunities permeated even the most basic interactions between the participants. Most of them were experienced in their professional domains, in youth work, and also in life, as we tend to travel a lot in this field. Stories we heard about each other’s life and learning experiences pulled out some interesting differences between cultures and countries, but more importantly, we also realized we have a lot of common ground, common struggles and fears and questions about our future as individuals. It was this common ground that helped us connect in less that two or three days, even if some of the activities or non-formal methods might have seemed edgy at the time. That was especially true when we had to step out our safe zone and comfort space, and talk, guide, touch each other, synchronize our movements, trust each other, while also focusing on the learning experience, and not on our personal limits when interacting with other human beings.

Back to the learning process, I feel I should start by praising María and Mohammed for their professionalism and tactful approach in showing us the path we could follow to learn more about ourselves, before anything else. And it’s a given, you can’t expect to successfully use non-formal methods with youngsters until you’ve tried them on yourself first.

Throughout the week, we experimented first hand many of the non-formal methods presented in the attached .pdf manual that was created after the Training Course concluded. I won’t go into details, just to stir your curiosity and make you, the reader, open it and read them at your own pace.  Some of them were inspired from established works like Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed”, the others were original adaptations and used by our trainers in their day to day work. All the methods you’ll read about will cater to your creative side, make you more comfortable to improvise and look at things from a different perspective.

The real challenge for existing and future youth workers is to pick the right methods and activities, when working with young people from marginalised groups, refugees, youngsters coming from the national minorities, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups or with fewer opportunities. Theatre and acting can provide for all the above categories a safe space for young people to express themselves without fear of repercussions, or a way to make themselves more visible and better understood when there’s a language barrier or any other impediment.

In the last days of the project, we had the opportunity to put the lessons we learnt and the pieces together and work in small teams to invent new methods and activities, taking turns in teams of three being the “trainers” and testing them out on the other participants.

Last, but not least, Svenja and Slobodan updated us about the latest news and changes in all Erasmus+ programmes, tips and tricks about funding, application procedures and useful statistics. Starting from that, people were already discussing project ideas and plans to meet again. After all, we’re all humans and goodbyes make us nostalgic. We lingered around for few more days, visiting various cities in Germany, but the laughter, selfies and all the sangria we had in St. Andreasberg will be forever with us, another story in this adventure called life.

Project report by: Cristian Glodeanu

Short manual: Theatre Tips for Youth Work [downloadable .pdf]

Photo credits: Aimar Silivälja, Sara Diaz, Laura Galloppo, Oksanka Tykhovska, Leanne Cesare, Cristian Glodeanu

Further reading / materials

  • GAMES FOR ACTORS AND NON-ACTORS, Augusto Boal, new ed. 1992 [link]
  • THEATRE OF THE OPPRESSED, Augusto Boal, new ed. 2009 [link]
  • JUGAR Y ACTUAR, InteRed ONGD, YouTube playlist [link]
  • JUGAR Y ACTUAR, Nicolas Ost Goemaere, María Díaz Durillo, 2013 [link]
  • Improvisation games, website [link]
  • A to Z Drama Games, website [link]
  • Tras las Huellas de Augusto, YouTube video [link]
  • E-Motive. España – Philippines 2015, Vimeo video [link]