On the day that FEPOW Fergus Anckorn visited school, the whole of year 9 were both inspired and saddened. Year 9 is a significant year for teenagers when they are just beginning to open out their thinking to engage more with history and world issues.
After spending part of the morning listening to his experiences, the girls were divided into four classes to engage in drama activities based on his stories. This was enhanced as many of the teachers leading these groups, had met and spoken with Fergus beforehand. In the absence of a local FEPOW being able to visit school, the FEPOW oral history archive could provide appropriate and valuable stimuli.
Each of the four classes was given one concept fitting into the larger theme of CAPTIVITY. These concepts were HOME; HOPE; DESPAIR and SURVIVAL.
Each class was then split into four sub-groups of 7 or 8 girls each. Four specific scenarios under each concept were handed out, one scenario for each sub-group in each class, leading to 16 drama sequences across the year group. The girls in each sub-group then had approximately 45 minutes to devise a drama based on their specific scenario.
Each class compiled the best snippets from each of the four groups and these were presented as continuous drama. They were performed before the whole year group at the end of the afternoon.
Although there was reasonably tight control over the content of this afternoon to ensure high quality and well-structured outcomes, the scope for dramatic interpretation was wide and many of the results outstanding
For example, one group working under the heading ‘HOME’ represented the homesickness of the FEPOW as a physical postcard.
Historical note: Very few FEPOW sent or received mail from home during captivity. Those that did, and their relatives, were restricted by the Japanese to just 25 words per postcard.
This sub-group organised people to stand in position, shoulder to shoulder in the centre, leading down either side with girls kneeling then seated, to form a perimeter framing the postcard itself. They then took it in turns to leave their position as part of the postcard, step into the centre while speaking in role as though they were “writing” imaginery words. This drama sequence was later refined to include two Japanese guards policing the whole process, keeping the wording of the postcard within the permitted 25-word limit.
What this work did was to consolidate pupil understanding of the FEPOW experience by direct engagement in imagining the scenarios and associated emotions.
Empathy is a powerful tool and they were also able to transfer their experience to imagining similar situations in modern day warfare. For girls it was a valuable opportunity to explore gender roles too.
Future plans include broadening the drama into performances for radio and local museums. Having the FEPOW in person provide feedback and his obvious delight working with young people who truly had tried to understood his experience was priceless and a wonderful conjunction between young and old.
The follow up letters written and sent by the pupils bear witness to this - see the English page.
4 Classrooms – each with one of the themes below
Divide girls in each classroom into 4 groups:
Each group in each class should look at the notes (download: 901kb MS Word doc) on the desk, discuss them and develop a short piece of drama to last no more than 2 minutes. All of this drama should be about the FEPOW experience based on FEPOW stories absorbed through FEPOW visit (or listening to the oral history testimonies from the LSTM archive).
Class teachers should observe the process and choose the best snippets to create one short drama around the class theme to last no more than 5 minutes in total.
This will be performed later in the drama studio in front of the whole year group.
Each group should choose a narrator to read out the desk notes as a narrative at points in the class drama.
Freeze frame or tableaux is a technique which helps students to encapsulate the main message from a piece of drama in one group still image. In groups pupils had worked on a word and different scenario connected to FEPOW experience,for example HOPE. Towards the end of this work they were asked to choose an aspect of their performance which they felt most summed up the message they were trying to give to an audience.
Using that aspect they created a still image involving all members of their group with particular emphasis on the body language and facial expression of each pupil in creating a whole image that could clearly convey the thematic area they had been exploring.
There was also an emphasis on the connectedness or separation of the different pupils acting so space became an important consideration, for example with distance used to suggest isolation or connectedness to suggest unity. This use of symbolism helped to cement their thinking on what it was they had been trying to achieve in their work and lent a sense of purpose and seriousness to it.