Hope. For those that do not spend their days considering the concept (or relying on it), then it may simply mean ‘wanting something to happen’. Kelly’s 7-year-old might use it in a sentence such as ‘I hope I get a treat after dinner’ (and let’s face it, don’t we all). For others, it may be a synonym for optimism; a positive attitude that allows for a sunny disposition. However, as Cornell West reminds us, optimism and hope are different. Optimism is more rational; it is based in the idea that there is evidence things will be better. Hope, however, involves going beyond the evidence, creating previously unconsidered possibilities and enabling, ‘visions that become contagious to allow us to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantees whatsoever. That’s hope’ (Anna Deavere Smith cited in Gallagher & Rodricks, 2017, p. 126).
For drama educators and practitioners, hope is the foundation on which we build our work. It is expressed in different ways, for example, Busby (2018) refers to ‘fields of the possible’ and Sloan (2018) talks about her work with recovering addicts as, not necessarily ‘choosing life’ or choosing not to die, but ‘the choice to experience aliveness” (p. 583). Neelands urges those in the field of drama to look beyond the rhetoric of transformation and to keep in mind that the arts make children powerful (Neelands, 2004;
2015) . Kershaw warns us of the avoidance of a pathology of hope (Kershaw, 1998). O’Connor reminds us that the arts present hope in the darkest of places (O’Connor, 2015a). All slightly different concepts, but tied together, we would argue, they build an important discourse about the contribution drama can make to its participants and audiences through the performative practice of hope. In education literature, hope, particularly the theory of critical hope, is a collective concern - wrapped up in a web of social relations (Jacobs, 2005) and a belief in the ability of the collective to make change. In Denzin’s words, hope is evident in:
... struggles and interventions that espouse the sacred values of love, care, community, trust and well-being. Hope, as a form of pedagogy, confronts and interrogates cynicism, the belief that change is not possible or too costly.
(Denzin, 2003, p. 174)
There is, as most readers will know, a historical link between drama and hope born out of the influence of Freire’s work on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed theories and practices. As a result, the philosophy of critical pedagogy - its focus on the marginalised, the building of critical consciousness and active empowerment and its embracing of critical hope - is directly or indirectly referenced by many of the communities key drama and theatre practitioners (e.g., Gallagher, 2015a; O’Connor,
2016) . The links made between embodied narratives and the participant’s responsibility to ‘change the story’ have developed a notion of participatory drama as a panacea for, or tool for combating, oppression. From bullies in schools, to human rights violations, drama has been recruited as a method for building an informed and ethical global citizenry. As a practice, undertaken in theatres, classrooms, community centres or public streets, drama work creates a space to play with possibilities, to represent and subvert, to walk in the words or (imagined) worlds of others, to participate in a collective imagining.
Central to this philosophy is the idea that the more thorough one’s understanding of the world, their circumstances and the power structures of society is, the more equipped they are to create change.
Thus nascent hope coincides with an increasing critical perception of the concrete conditions of reality. Society now reveals itself as something unfinished, not as something inexorably given; it has become a challenge rather than a hopeless limitation.
(Freire, 2013, p. 11)
In a world unfinished, drama is used in lots of different ways - to increase understanding amongst audiences and participants, to highlight a common humanity, to encourage empathy and build resistance to oppressive regimes (large or small). Resistance is intertwined with the notion of critical hope in critical pedagogy - in order to be an unoppressive force in the world, one must first understand and then resist the hegemonic regime.
Giroux’s notion of resistance celebrates human agency and:
... portrays domination as neither a static process nor one that is never complete ... the oppressed are not viewed as being simply passive in the face of domination. The notion of resistance points to the need to understand more thoroughly the complex ways in which people mediate between their own lived experiences and structures of domination and constraint... Inherent in a radical notion of resistance is an expressed hope, an element of transcendence for radical transformation.
(Giroux, 1983, p. 108)
In order to resist, one must first hope.
In later work, Giroux worries that in these times of neoliberalism and commercialism, whether it is difficult for young people to find public spheres where they can locate, understand or engage with metaphors of hope. Having worked in and with drama for our entire adult lives, we argue that much of the work that takes place around the world is aimed at exactly this purpose - whether it is youth using new technological platforms to publically perform themselves and what’s important to them, or whether it’s a mainstage production of a new theatre for young people piece, or a schoolbased drama intervention for children returning to school after a natural disaster, drama provides public, embodied, metaxic spaces for students to experience, play, test and (hopefully) feel powerful.