Introduction of drama, film and theater studies as a school subject an inspired idea

I always find it a bit surreal to see some teachers turn into rowdy back-room rowdies at their annual conference. It has become something of a tradition to mock and shout at the then Minister of Education, although tradition is far too big a word for that. It’s bad manners, plain and simple – and I say that as a fan of the teacher.

However, what is more disconcerting is that the heckling at last week’s Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland conference came as Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, spoke about the reform Leaving Cert.

Teachers have real and pressing concerns about the proposed introduction of teacher-based assessment. These concerns need to be recognized and addressed, but it would be such a shame if all the debates over the coming months on the long-awaited reform focused on ironing out these difficult issues.

It is, if you will, the bad drama. The drama that interests me the most is the introduction of drama, film and theater studies as a school subject. I think it is an inspired idea and has the potential to offer hope and relief to many stressed students.

I remember being one myself, feeling completely overwhelmed by exam stress, which has actually increased in recent years. However, there was some relief and he came out sparkling from the pages of Hamlet, the Shakespearean tragedy on the program. Yes, it’s a dark play and set in the darkness of distant Elsinore, but how real the emotions, how illuminating the interactions, and how revealing the gnarled complications of family life contained within its pages.

We studied JM Synge The Playboy of the Western World too and one sunny afternoon we were asked to take turns reading it aloud. I was struck by the energy that pervaded the classroom that day as a group of 17 and 18 year olds let Synge’s rich tongue roll over their tongues. They became animated in a way that I had never seen in any other class or subject.

Imagine the possibilities that will open up when Drama, Film and Theater Studies are a core Leaving Cert subject. Apart from its invigorating appeal, it has the potential to offer so much more to students. At a time when it is really difficult to know how to prepare our children for the future, studying drama opens up so many possibilities.

It helps build confidence, boost concentration, develop language and communication skills, foster understanding of the wider world, build friendships and sharpen creativity – and that’s just a list. partial.

Imagine what these skills could do as a new generation engages in the second new topic on offer, climate action and sustainability.


Because of our prolonged inaction, the fight against climate change will dominate their young lives. We can only guess how these lives might turn out.

As stressful as Leaving Cert has been in the past, at least the paths ahead were relatively clear. We knew that a number of points would lead to some sort of course, if we could afford it, which in turn offered the possibility of employment upon completion. Now, it’s fair to say that many kids starting school today will be working in jobs they haven’t even thought of before.

The least we can do is equip them with the kind of skills that will help them navigate an ever-changing world.

Revisiting the work of Máirín Cregan

We do not yet have a format for drama, film and theater studies, but hope it will include interesting and forgotten Irish filmmakers and playwrights.

With the centenary of the Civil War in sight, it’s the perfect time to revisit the work of Máirín Cregan for example (even if the subject is heavy and dark). She wrote about the horrors of the 1923 hunger strikes, based on her own experiences. Her husband, James Ryan, later TD and Minister of Fianna Fáil, went on a hunger strike for 36 days.

His game, Hunger-strike, was published in 1927 and rejected by the Abbey Theater four years later. However, earlier this month he was revived in his home town of Killorglin, Co Kerry.

If you’re not convinced of the benefits of theater in schools, talk to the woman behind this project, Fiona Brennan, theater historian and former teacher. She talks about her own jaw-dropping epiphany as a Leaving Cert student in the 1980s after being introduced to Brian Friel Philadelphia, here I come!

At the time, she couldn’t verbalize what it stirred inside her, but now the words flow. The experience aroused “emotion, well-being, imagination, concern, the desire to explore,” she says. “If I had had access to practical theater at the time, which I could have explored.”

Notice, she’s exploring it now. The theater historian, along with the Killorglin Archive Society, brought Cregan’s Hunger-strike to a new audience – and perhaps his first audience. When she came across the play, she found no evidence that it had ever been staged, other than a radio adaptation in 1936.

“Why was it never staged?” asks Dr. Brennan.

His dialogue skipped off the page. It’s wonderful writing. The play is factually based on the hunger strikes of 1923, which saw anti-treaty supporters interned by the Free State government seeking to make their voices heard.

“What makes it more special is that it’s based on Cregan’s own personal experiences.”

Like a history lesson Hunger-strike offers a female perspective on the Civil War. It illustrates, with startling relief, how it tore families apart and shows the torment a woman faces as she supports her husband on a hunger strike, knowing the repercussions for her and her three young children if he dies. .

As a drama studies lesson, it has a lot to offer as well.

Dr Brennan says: “Although the play may be a century old, the wonderful thing is that it can be interpreted in today’s terms – that’s the beauty of drama. It opens up a whole new world; this leads people to reflect, to question themselves, to ask themselves questions.

Exploring it on the second level also offers lessons for English lessons as it reminds us of the many forgotten writers of Irish literature. Cregan was a playwright, but she was also a prolific internationally successful children’s author who deserves to come out into the spotlight again.

On a broader note, Dr. Brennan can’t say enough about the value of putting theater on the curriculum.

“Although there are some mentions of the health benefits of the arts, the idea of ​​theater and wellbeing has been little explored in Ireland,” she says, listing the benefits in terms of the craft itself. and what it could do to spark the imagination and foster innovation – and it will be fun.

So when the Leaving Cert reform is mentioned, let’s embrace the subject with wild cheers, not heckling.