4. Konferenz in Lingen 2014

International Agreement on the Conduct and Ethics of Theatre Educators

Prof. Dr. Gerd Koch (Berlin, Germany), Member of Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Spiel und Theater e. V., Hannover, Germany

About five years ago now, we had the idea of developing a sort of code of ethics for theatre educators, drama teachers and so on: “International Agreement on the Conduct and Ethics of Theatre Educators“ (http://www.bag-online.de/projekte/uevet/uevet-english.pdf).

The reason behind this was that our profession, which has a great deal to do with personalities, social connections, etc., carries a significant moral and professional responsibility. And we realised that our profession did not yet have an agreement of this kind, even though football trainers, social workers and teachers were already following exactly such codes of ethics.

We prepared such an agreement in collaboration with our friends and colleagues in Turkey, drawing on universal, global values in the process, such as those that have in part been established by resolutions by the UN and UNESCO. Yet our own practical experiences and thoughts about what successful theatre educational and drama teaching practice should look like and what sort of personal conduct is needed to this end were also of particular importance here.

We created a draft version of the agreement, which was then discussed at length by the specialist staff of the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Spiel und Theater in Germany and the Turkish drama association CDD. We advised one another and suggested changes whilst also taking the respective country-specific and working methodology issues into consideration.

And in early 2011, the final version of the agreement was then passed at the general assembly of the Turkish drama association in Antalya. It is now available in several different languages (Turkish, English, German, Italian, Croatian and Greek, amongst others) and has become a significant help for cooperation and increased professionalisation within our profession.

This agreement supplements the various publications and structures already available in the field: a German theatre education dictionary (another dictionary that builds on this one has just been published in Portuguese), interest groups that have formed to give political support to theatre education and drama teaching, the various training courses and qualifications offered at universities and other organisations, the several magazines and book publications that support our profession. And now, since 2011, there has also been the International Agreement on the Conduct and Ethics of Theatre Educators.

The following sections of the international agreement are particularly important to me. They read as follows:

(3) Human Dignity
Theatre educators always act in awareness of the need to respect the dignity of every single human being in a legally binding manner. In particular, this awareness is reflected in their work based on the idea that the autonomy of every individual and the expressions they make are taken seriously.

(14) Consolidation of Learners’ Potential
Theatre educators endeavour to act in an educationally responsible manner in order to serve and consolidate learners’ physical, cognitive, emotional, social and artistic development in a successful fashion. They support learners in capacity building, personal and social empowerment and developing networks and take their resources into consideration.

(9) Knowledge of Academic Discourse
Theatre educators are involved in educational and artistic discourses and familiarise learners with the range of different approaches that these entail.

(8) International and Intercultural Emphasis
Theatre educators endeavour to work with other bodies or individuals according to humanist and intercultural principles and see the need to improve their skills in this area as a matter of course. They work with other professions in an interdisciplinary manner.

(23) International Cooperation
Theatre educators work together both nationally and internationally with other similar individuals and professions.

Why are they particularly important to me? I will point out: International domestic policy – global awareness – mondialism - citizenship - PLUS self & social empowerment & self & social awareness. SAME: forming a contradictory whole and acting it out; showing via theatre and drama.

I hope that the agreement is translated into further languages and added to in each context whilst still taking the basic ideas mentioned previously into consideration!

What I see as important for “Theatre and Community”

Theatre Creates New Perspectives
Theatre’s creative quality can also been seen in the way it enables us to present a mental change in location. This means that theatre develops new perspectives on the physical world as well as on social, historical, economical and mental occurrences. Theatre does not do this in top down fashion, but rather it is the people involved in it who shape and visualise it both for themselves and others based on their own interests. They permit other opinions and views and allow these to be incorporated into the process. A mental change in location also means taking on the positions of others – that is, enabling anticipation and empathy. The important thing here is, as Bertolt Brecht once said, that things can always go both “one way and also another” in life and in art. We can present variations, experience and shape them. And all this is supposed to take place within a space of potential equality. And differentiations and differences can then be negotiated on the level of this equality, which is ascribed to all people.  

Theatre as a Chance
Within this context, theatre can act as an example of successful life, of how to shape life in a happy manner. The participants’ creativity is called upon, supported and passed on to others. Theatre works based on the assumption that people are capable of more than is frequently expected of them at any given moment. Theatre should grasp all the people taking part in it as having already reached their hypothetical ultimate goal. This means taking your partner as he or she could be within the communicative educational processes of theatre. You should recognise potential (those unspecific qualities that lie within us), develop skills (just having skills doesn’t actually enable action to be taken), and realise them as the vital third step. Performance thus has to enter the mix – being able to take one’s ideas to stage! Taking this approach would enable prospective action to be taken which focuses on the people themselves and allow the possible to be accepted in today’s educational processes. Artistic action offers chances to this end: stage actors also realise their work within a social field.

Theatre is Public Action  

  • Social theatre no longer takes place behind the closed doors of the make-believe.
  • The activities of theatre educators, drama teachers and those teaching creative drama amongst others greatly enhance social and cultural events.
  • This type of theatre cannot sidestep the subjects that affect the world, sending its own points of view on such subjects back out into the world.
  • Theatre educators, drama teachers and creative educators are all capable of getting actively involved in society in a constructive manner.
  • Theatre makes propositions.
  • Its power and authority are a result of its attention to social issues and its ability to draw on creativity and aesthetics to shape events.
  • The effect of social theatre is akin to giving a gift to people in society!

Keywords for further open discussion

  1. Cooperation with the many other social professions and academic disciplines – community theatre, social theatre, neighbourhood theatre – developing ethno-scenography for research and social change!
  2. Conducting theatre as publicity work!
  3. Giving theatrical form to teaching and learning processes!

(July / August 2014)