Pleasure – beauty, joy and play
There is a significant discussion in scholarly literature about the role of beauty and aesthetics in drama (and indeed, in education). It has been brought to prominence in the work of James Thompson (2006) and Joe Winston (2005; 2008; 2010). It has importance as a unifying discourse harking back to more romantic ideals of what the arts should achieve, but long-since abandoned in the rationalist latter haff of the 20th century. It also foreshadows and joins the recurrent debate around the nature of change and impact in drama, moving beyond the rhetoric of transformation (Neelands, 2004) and engaging instead with more subtle characterisations of affect and effect (Thompson, 2009b). Experiences in and with drama often place value on what Thompson (2009a, p. 116) refers to as the ‘affective registry -associated with pleasure, beauty and fun’.
The focus on experience, aesthetic and feeling is described by Sloan, not as joy or pleasure, but the ‘affective experience of alive-ness’. Rather than talking about feeling in terms of emotion, they consider it in terms of the sensation of life (Sloan, 2018, p. 593). This is an idea that resonates with us -the notion of being present in the experience of alive-ness. Others discuss the potent possibility of emotion of drama (Bundy, Dunn & Stinson, 2016) and the place of empathy in our work (Grove O’Grady, 2020). Regardless of the particular orientation, drama as embodied, relational, experiential, participatory, joyful, sorrow-inducing, is drama concerned with ‘feeling’ life.
Alongside a prominent literature in aesthetics, beauty and drama, there is an enduring and much-loved relationship between drama and play. Many of our colleagues over the years have written about it, considering the opportunity drama presents for spontaneous and playful engagement with curriculum, social issues and learning. Neelands (2010b) considers it ‘betwixt and between’ mindfulness and playfulness that provides so much opportunity for learning, engagement and connectedness. Similarly (but differently), O’Toole offers a dialectic between art and play - between curiosity and control; ‘what if?’ and ‘as if’ (O’Toole, 2006). Scholars have lamented that our imagination and creativity are stifled by education institutions (such as school) and as we become older, we lose our ability to play. The opportunities afforded for playful engagement with bodies, ideas and place are seen as a ‘gift’ that drama brings to places usually considered lacking in such opportunities, places such as schools, prisons, hospitals and warzones. From theatresports in schools, to clowns in hospitals, to circus play in refugee camps, drama draws much of its power from the pleasure of the experience, the chance for fun and the opportunity for aesthetic connection to and with the world.
This is a power that the world is questing for. It is considered by some an antidote to the excesses of the global flows and a rejection of the neoliberal impulse to commercialise feeling (Hochschild, 2003). Others see a perceptible turn back to joyous and pleasureable celebration of humanity observable in places where there is a renewed place of art in the world (Sommer, 2014), and where our democracies are revived and celebrated once again through the humanities (Nussbaum, 2010). At the heart of all of these desires sits drama.