I have always been extremely adamant that the process of a project is much more important than a performance at the end of a residency. Participants who have grown over the course of a project may get stage fright in the last minute and this should never be taken away from all that they have gained throughout the process. This is why I surprised myself when the school in Konaklı was resistant about the idea of a performance I found myself fighting very hard for one. This made me ask myself why a performance was so essential to the end of the residencies of Tell me a Tale in Turkey.
When I was a part of a similar project three years ago in Ortaca we had a big performance at the end of the residency and I remember how successful it was. It was the moment that the school got a sense of what we had been working on, it gave parents the opportunity to see their children do things they didn’t think they were capable of and it gave the children an enormous sense of pride. When I was originally mapping out the aims and objectives of Tell me a Tale in Turkey I decided that every two-week residency should end in a performance for the local community to:
-Demonstrate the importance of the arts in a school environment to parents and teachers
-Reduce stigma in the community towards people with special needs
– Give the children the chance to feel pride in the work that they have been working on
-Give the children a chance to feel a part of their local community
Drama is not in the government curriculum so only some private schools in the big cities in Turkey teach it. Due to this it is difficult to get government funding or payment from schools for projects like this as drama is not recognised as a valid form of education. Having a performance at the end of a residency gives the school the opportunity to see what skills drama can give to students. We also like to invite the head of education (of the town) to the performance so that they too can see the value. Even though as a facilitator you are more likely to have seen more growth with participants during the process it is a good opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of the project to others.
The main reason that the school was cautious of having a performance was a fear that the parents would not like the fact that the children had been doing something outside of a ‘real education’. As I mentioned in a previous blog post children with special needs in these rehabilitation schools/centres only have 8-12 hours a month of education provided by the government. Parents want to ensure that their child receives the best education possible. There is also a great deal of competition between rehabilitation centres as they are all privately owned and the more students they have the more the school will gain financially as they are paid per head by the government. This has resulted in centres trying to steal students from each other and even bribing families to try and convince them to send a child to their centre. Due to this schools are in the constant fear that they may lose students. They therefore want to please parents as much as possible so that the child stays at their specific school (I also like to think that each school thinks they can provide the best education for the student- and I hope I’m not being overly optimistic).
As mentioned the Turkish education system focuses on more ‘academic’ subjects rather than the arts. This includes special needs schools. Discovering this has opened my eyes to a lot of what I have been experiencing since running this project in Turkey. When a teacher tells me that the child I will be working with ‘can’t do much’ they are referring to the fact that they ‘can’t do much’ when it comes to the traditional educational system. In the UK special schools have the usual Math and English classes designed specifically for different abilities (PMLD, SLD and MLD) but there is also a strong focus on interacting socially with other students. Even if a child has a one to one teaching assistant they are still in a class with other students where as in Turkey there is a lot of focus on one to one tuition in separate rooms. This sounds great in theory but some children with special needs only have one to one classes and no group classes and this is a great disadvantage. Bearing in mind that they only go to school on average 2-3 hours a week and spend the rest of their time at home they don’t have any chance of socialising except for with their immediate family. I began to empathise more with the school when I met a father of a 22 year old with severe learning difficulties (who attended a different centre) and he told me that he had specifically organised with the school to only put her in one to one classes for 10 hours a week to learn how to read as he thought that would be the most important thing she could learn (and he paid for 8 out of the 10 hours a week). His daughter is still unable to read. This does not mean to say that she will never make any progress with reading but if this energy were put into her socialising she would probably be able to express herself more clearly and therefore have a higher quality of life. Many children with special needs feel a great deal of frustration as they can struggle to express themselves and socialising with new people gives them the opportunity to learn more about self expression. Meeting this father also brought to light a conversation I had had with a businessman earlier in the week when discussing the project at a rotary club. After I gave a talk about how sensory theatre can be used as an educational tool one of the members asked me ‘can you educate hyperactive children using this method’ to which I replied that you can adapt sensory theatre to work with different ages and abilities to which he put his hand up again and asked ‘can you educate autistic children using this method?’
After speaking to the father of the 22 year old I felt that everything became clearer to me. The school was resistant to show parents that their children had taken part in a project that didn’t involve reading or writing, as it wasn’t seen as ‘education’. When I was questioned on if you can ‘educate’ a special needs child the man may have been referring to a more traditional form of education.
This brings me back to the importance of a performance at the end of a residency in Turkey. So far the only reactions I have had of parents watching performances has been extremely positive. Parents have been shocked at what their child has been able to do (both individually and in a group) and how well they have coped with being in front of an audience. I believe that this opens their eyes to what their child is capable of and widens their views on what an education can consist of both in the arts and social development. A school’s fear of showing parents different methods of education will only end in a more closed opinion because they haven’t been given the opportunity to experience anything different. This is why performance has become incredibly important to me during this project and why I felt the need to fight as hard as I did for one.
We did end up having a performance with 17 of the children in Konaklı but no one was invited. The teachers watched the performance and 3 parents who bring their children to school also came. It was clear to see that the students and teachers felt a great sense of completion at the end of the show and once again we had mothers in tears because they saw their child reaching beyond their expectations.
I feel that my time in Konaklı gave me a much greater understanding of the education that is aimed towards children with special needs in Turkey. I hope that with this I will be able to gear projects more thoughtfully when it comes to working with parents and teachers and that the work will continue to challenge perceptions and break down barriers now that I have a better idea what I am attempting to demonstrate.
*During the blogs on this project I have generalised the term ‘special needs’ a great deal. This is due to the fact that I have been working with children and adults with special needs across a large spectrum. In Konaklı I ran 32 workshops for over 80 students between the ages of 3-45 from PMLD students to those who could be considered mainstream.