Finnish Cooperation: Schools get Access to Drama

14-11 2008

Näytelmä play service will now be open to home language teachersThe Finnish Dramatists’ Union, The Union of Mother Tongue Teachers (ÄOL) and The Reading Centre have agreed on an initiative, which will allow teachers of the mother tongue (Finnish and Swedish) access to dramatic literature and information about dramatists.

-This implies new opportunities for us to acquaint ourselves with dramatic literature, says ÄOL’s director Annamari Saure, commenting the initiative.
The driving force behind this move was a survey showing that the difficulties encountered when searching for dramatic literature had a negative effect on the teaching of drama in schools.

Play texts caught in offside position

Joonas Konstig, in a survey conducted for his post-graduate thesis in 2007, researched the status of dramatic literature in language and literature classes at Finnish high schools. The survey results showed that over half of the teachers questioned wished to teach more dramatic literature.
Eighty-three percent of those interviewed believe that dramatic literature represents an important part of our literary heritage and cultural history and should be part of our general knowledge. Teachers were however, unable to teach to the extent that they wished to.
Over two thirds of the mother tongue teachers were of the opinion that the unavailability of plays and teaching materials was the main obstacle to teaching dramatic literature. Almost the same amount claimed that the scarcity of available plays dictated which dramatic works they were able teach. You can’t teach dramatic literature without access to play manuscripts. This initiative is an attempt to eliminate this obstacle.

Dramatists themselves behind the library

Almost 90 years ago, Finland’s dramatists founded a union whose purpose was to promote domestic dramatic writing. The Finnish Dramatist’s Union has since that day kept an extensive archive or library of plays, which in 2006 was transferred to digital media.

In the library’s comprehensive, 4000 volume, collection, you can find almost every domestic Finnish play produced from Alexis Kivi to Pirkko Saisio. The library also contains classical plays, Shakespeare and Chekhov for example. Through Näytelmä, the contents of this library will be available to all teachers of mother tongue in Finland.
-The availability of these works opens new perspectives on our society – whatever the age of the reader or audience, says Markus Pyhälto, head of The Finnish Dramatists’ Union.
Pyhältö feels that a good play is a good lesson in the way it embraces complex issues and asks the audience to both to think and to take sides.
-Its fantastic that schools can create a fertile ground that will ensure that future Finnish populations will frequent the theatre at least as much as they do today. We Finns are today globally at the head of the class in this respect, says Pyhältö with pride.

Playwrights and plays in the limelight

The Reading Centre’s goal is to promote an interest in reading. Underlying their visiting authors program is the belief that face to face interaction between writers and readers stimulates the interest for reading and books. The Reading Centre’s director, Riitta Vaismaa hopes that this initiative will bring greater visibility to our playwrights.
-Schools and libraries have, for some reason, been reluctant to invite other than prose writers to meet the reading public, explains Vaismaa. –Meeting a playwright can increase interest in dramatic literature and even in theatre itself.
Annmari Saure is especially happy that the Näytelmä library contains so many contemporary domestic works whose productions have generated a theatre interest in even the most reluctant of teenage students.
- I remember how Iira Halttunen’s play Ähtäriin, silenced the boys who at the beginning of the performance sat muttering under their breaths, laughs Saure.
She is enthusiastic about this opportunity to let students become acquainted with a play before they actually see it on stage, or even after they have seen the play performed.
-They will have a whole new insight in the aesthetics and mechanics of transferring text to stage, says Saure.
They will also see how different environments, different ways of expression, can change the text, that the theatre and the play are both capable of conveying important experiences.
-Theatre, and art on the whole, develops a person’s ability to place herself in another’s situation. To experience something, to wonder about the impression it made on you, is also a way to gain self-knowledge, concludes Suare.

Mirja Vinberg-Mäkinen – director of public relations, Finnish Dramatists’ Union

Joonas Konstig’s survey, Näytelmäkirjallisuus lukion äidinkielen ja kirjallisuuden opetuksessa, is available at www.naytelmat .fi