Adam Blatner

Draft August 18, 2006

This essay addresses a category of activities that are devoted to helping others to develop their skills and knowledge, bringing others forth. This category is to be contrasted with activities in which people present themselves individually or in teams so that their work can be admired and perhaps utilized. The second category is the most prominent in the world, the “stars” of sports and entertainment, the competitive giants of industry. There are of course all sorts of  in-between activities that operate in mixtures and with elements not mentioned, but I am noting the more contrasting elements to make a point: The activity of bringing others forth is as much of an art, requires as much if not more deep and lasting wisdom–of a different kind–as the more familiar forms of individualistic self-actualization.

The goals are different: In our culture, there seems to have been a general extra valuing of competition and individual striving, so that the performer who impresses the audience gets big rewards. The parent, the teacher, the group worker who seeks to bring forth the potentials in children, students, the disabled, the demoralized, the oppressed, the uncertain–these are notable for the low pay they get, and even less glory.

There has been a slight gender association with the individualistic, hey, look at me approach–it’s “phallic,” more male. Its wisdom is more in the form of pronouncements. The bringing-others-forth type has been associated in our culture and many others with more female endeavors, involving parenting, especially of younger children. Really good parenting, though, requires a distinctly different kind of wisdom that can hardly be captured in any formulations–it coordinates a variety of skills and ideas in response to the needs of the moment. Furthermore, although there has been a historical gender division, this is by no means necessary. Often men can serve to bring others forth as well as women, and women can express individualistic competence as well as men. So let’s try to leave the gender association aside as a historical artifact and focus instead on the two functions.

Both are needed, goodness knows! My point in trying to elevate the status of bringing others forth is not to reduce the appreciation for more individualistic, performance-oriented, and often competitive striving. There are important values and places for both in life. I do want to call the dominance of competition and individual performance into question, but only insofar as this dominance is at times excessive and is applied in contexts that may not be appropriate.

My focus for this essay is in the application of the general principle to the activity of drama. Drama begins as an innate process of childhood play and diverges into make-believe play, which is generally non-competitive, and games, which vary in the types of competition involved. Some games involve only seeing how well one can do, competing with one’s own previous achievement, such as rock climbing, for example. Other games are “zero-sum,” a term from game theory that means that if one wins, the other must lose. These have come to dominate our culture, so that many people don’t know that non-competitive games exist!

In drama, the make-believe play satisfies its own exploratory goals. This is important: Most kids feel no need to take it to the next step of putting on a show for an audience! Our culture, though, has developed many rewards for this cultural niche, the performance. Some kids really enjoy the challenge, both as individuals, the class or family clown, or as a team. Let’s put on a show. This is an important transformation that leaves a category of drama ignored: Let’s explore a situation dramatically, through role playing, with no need for the exploration to evoke any admiration from an audience–and indeed, no audience need be present. The goal is simply to use the tools of drama and the context of play as a psycho-social laboratory that allows for a development of understanding, empathy, and skill. It is the use of simulations, no less than an astronaut or pilot in flight training machines.

Some Cultural Shifts

This re-balancing of the goals of drama, sometimes to entertain, other times to bring forth those present, parallels some other trends. One has been that of democracy and liberalism, to modify the excesses of pure competition in business and other social institutions and to help others who are less driven, less advantaged, less innately talented, to make use of their potentials, also.

(The weakness of this liberal or more inclusive “no child left behind” attitude is that there will always be the slackers, those who really don’t want to play the game, and the methods used to bring them into line are a little different from those whose motivations are more sincere but whose baseline skill level is lower. I note this, because criticism is often generated that is aimed at this sector of the population, the “un-deserving,” and how they are sometimes too “pampered.” This then sets up a rhetorical “straw man” that justifies the need to be “tough,” and this in turn masks the actualities of ruthlessness and greed.)

Another cultural shift was referred to in the book, the shift from fear to lure as a way of influencing people. The key here is that a huge infrastructure has emerged of methods and concepts related to psychology, management, parenting, education, and by extension, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and political and personal mediation and negotiation. They all offer tools for bringing others forth:
   – encouragement
   – instruction or the providing of information in a more transparent and user-friendly fashion
   – structuring learning contexts so that the learning is intrinsically rewarding, rather than depending on extrinsic rewards (or the relief from anxiety at punishments or low grades)
   – offering opportunities for relatively fail-safe practice, rehearsal, skill-refinement (such as is generated in a context of play–e.g., simulations, role training)
   – (related to the last point of role training) learning by doing, bodily involvement, multi-modal involvement, as many senses as possible, including discussion, interaction
   – adjusting learning to individual differences in temperament, cognitive style, ability (as is done with dyslexia, or vocational guidance)
   – appreciation and rewards for small gains
   – breaking down the learning into digestible steps
   – promoting group morale and motivation by relating the learning to wider contexts, meanings, relevance, purposes, identities
   – and other basic principles of pedagogy or education...

These principles apply to bringing people forth, whatever their age or native ability. Drama is a technology of enactment that involves especially the domain of simulations, rehearsal, bodily-involvement, learning-by doing. All the other principles apply, also.

The Pyramid of Interest

People have a wide range of abilities and interests, and I think that each area of talent or ability seems to be distributed in the population according to the statistical bell-shaped curve. The people in the lowest 20% of talent tend not to enjoy doing that activity. The middle group may not be that good at it, but variably do enjoy it. This is the key group that I’m interested in! With training, their actual performance and enjoyment can be advanced perhaps 10-20%. What this means is that I’m not pushing for everyone to be interested in dancing, singing, poetry, psychological contemplations, sports, doing drama, and so forth, but I’d like to give more people more access to more activities. As it is, trends towards competition and specialization lead to activities in which only the top 10% can enjoy and participate.

So with that as a preamble, I envision the following broad-based and rather narrow pyramid

                                                  ^            - -  the “big time”
                                            /            \      -  -   majoring in drama (0.1-3%)
                                    /                              \    -   -   rather involved (5-20%)
                           /                                                  \     -  -   Somewhat interested (40-60%)

At the bottom, perhaps off the pyramid itself, are all those who aren't interested and don't even want to play--the largest group. (I'll give that to 20 - 40% of the population.) The next up  is a rather substantial group who are somewhat interested and would benefit from learning to make use of a number of dramatic elements in their lives (40-60%). (This is the group I am most interested in, for reasons to be explained further on.) The third group on this broad pyramid consists of those who might enjoy really sharpening their dramatic skills to the point of putting on a show (5-20%). These are the youngsters who join the drama club, who enjoy taking these classes.  The fourth and smallest group are those who are willing to dedicate their careers to this product-oriented effort--those who will really focus on the theatre arts in college and professionally ( 0.1-3%).

Philosophical Considerations

A major development in postmodernist philosophy, other than a fair amount of foolishness that goes on under this rubric, is the simple awareness that there are multiple frames of reference or perspectives, and therefore multiple criteria for judging relevance and more or less “truth.” If art is focused on the quality of the product, that’s one approach. If art is interested in the enjoyment of a medium, a different slant is introduced. I believe that many more people can be helped to enjoy a medium, art, poetry, drama, than there will be people so skilled in these fields as to be able to ask others to pay money to witness their performances. In this world of mass media, furthermore, the pyramid of fine performances is made ever-steeper, the competition is stronger. (When the only singers you have to hear are from your general village, you may not hear the best in the world, just folks that are better than most others around you. When you have the whole world to access through mass media, you become more picky where you want to spend your money.)

I honor those who are dedicated to developing and presenting great art. It’s just that I don’t want this endeavor to obscure the validity of all sorts of other folks also enjoying the medium. I honor the great popular singers as stars, and I want to promote small group, collective song fests (see my website... ). Similarly, I appreciate really great theatre, but I enjoy more the exploratory imaginative drama in my method of The Art of Play, or through other approaches such as bibliodrama, theatre games and drama in education. In that sense, I’m a populist. My sense is that this counter-force is needed, because in late childhood and beyond, I don’t think young people are getting basic information about the range of modes of expression and recreation that are actually available and personally enriching

In the school system, and to some degree, in church groups and camps, if drama is only presented as something that must be scripted, memorized, and rehearsed, that leaves out 60% of the kids who don’t want to take the time or have the ability and dedication to do this rather concentrated activity! The efforts to put on a show also use skills of many others for tech support, building sets, selling tickets, and so forth. That’s great in the sense of many roles on the team for folks with different skills, but do people other than the actors even know that they can act a little and enjoy the acting, in simple role playing and improvisational exercises?  I meet so many who have never heard of this option!

So my thrust is to try to promote activities that can be more accessible, inclusive, and help people enjoy the process of doing art–drama, especially, but also singing, dancing, drawing, poetry, etc. It’s okay with me that their products are amateurish; what’s important is the experience of doing, the channeling of the spiritual energy of the muses through more souls. As it has become, most folks get oppressed by the illusion of “oh, I can’t sing ( /do drama /etc.)” when they really mean, “I can’t perform with enough skill to evoke admiration from an audience.”  Well, who said that was the only reason to sing, dance, do drama, write and speak poetry, and do other aesthetic activities?

As Robert Fulghum pointed out, we don’t tell kids they can’t take gym classes or play kickball without a sharp audition of talent–why do we do this for singing? (See webpage, Singin' for the Fun of It ).

It’s also related to my passionate belief that these activities are important in wholesome, balanced living, as much as is a balanced diet. A life with only work and a few sports is so relatively shallow compared with a life lived with more diverse activities. The idea that we have to be really good, specialized, is nuts!  Sure, it’s nice to find an activity you’re especially good at and develop it. But we need to also validate amateurism, the sheer enjoyment of an activity done at a mediocre level, and not dissuade people from participating at this level. The experience is more important than the polished, fine, end-point achievement!! 


Although there has been some emphasis on the general field of artistic expression and drama in particular–since they are special areas of interest for me–, these ideas apply in general to our philosophy of child-rearing, education, business management, and other areas in which people help others, or perhaps should do more. I want to recognize as wisdom the art of bringing people forth, and that this is a distinctly different type of work than direct individualistic performance. The cliche, “those that can, do; those that can’t teach,” is a misleading and nasty concept! It privileges performance over helping others to enjoy their own innate abilities, and it well may be argued that in terms of overall human progress, the latter category–more people doing the arts–may be as important if not more important than the small progress of a few people doing the arts just a tiny bit better. It values participation over spectatorship, and authentic living over the illusion of life derived from identification with the extraordinary feats of the heroes, whether living or only in comics and fantasy. Bringing others forward pays off.

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