Drama in adult education vs drama of adult education: a philosophy behind the method

Maja Maksimović

In this paper, I would like to argue for the application of drama in adult education that goes beyond popular role play games and to invite adult educators to re-think drama not as a method, but as an approach to education with epistemological and ontological thinking behind learning methodology. I am particularly interested in this question since I witnessed a misuse of the drama in adult education, which I believe was the consequence of focusing on the activity and “overdoing drama”, but neglecting learning process, inner of learners and group dynamic.

Drama proves to be a very powerful method, which can melt blocks and resistances of the learners and lead them to very “sensitive and vulnerable places”. The method represents contemporary rites of passage that opens liminal space in which deconstruction of personal identity is possible and self becomes homeless – it floats in between what used to be known, but is lost. Authors Semetsky and Delpech-Ramey (2012) explained their understanding of intersection of Jung’s analytical psychology and Deleuze philosophy of becoming and offered a new post-structural framework to look at the process of individuation and to theorize about drama in adult education.

Drama as a methodology: Example of the Sesame Approach

As an example of drama as a methodology, I will give a brief overview of the Sesame Approach that has been “responsible for developing imaginative means for healing not only the individual but the culture we all share” (Stevens, 2003, p. xi). The Sesame is an approach to drama and movement therapy, but for adult educators it offers methodology that overcomes knowing as a rational process and opens a portal to embodied knowing and becoming. “Deleuze also testifies to the arts’ transformative capacities, offering individuals sensory, and even sensual, affects and producing fragments, allusions, strivings, investigations which create affirmative injunctions” (Allan, 2013, p. 37) and explores who we might be.

At the heart the Sesame Approach is a metaphor. Just like the ancient story that uses the phrase ‘Open Sesame’ to open the cave door and reveal treasure, the Sesame Approach uses drama and movement as powerful resources to promote healing and change in people’s lives. It is a non-confrontational therapy, based in the knowledge that difficulties are resolved indirectly or obliquely, through metaphor and using an inner language that is initially non-verbal. This symbol or image language is expressed through the use of movement, drama, touch, story enactment, improvisation, and use of voice, explored in a safe and playful environment. Experiencing and embodying an inner image through movement, taking on a role in a story, or enacting a character which is new or in contrast to the everyday way of dealing with life, are each ways that Sesame uses to work with people. The meaning of what is expressed may take time to be integrated and understood.” (Sesame Institute, 2015)

Experience of the self

By opening a space for imaginative and being there with our bodies, through metaphors we can experience unlived parts of ourselves which can be potentially revitalizing. We go beyond “moral algebra” (Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2012) and dualistic thinking of what is consider to be good or bad, and we allow aspects of tabooed realities to emerge, which can make us more alive. One can look at this process from the humanistic perspective of discovering and living authentic self. To mention we can leave the false self that we use in the “real world” in order to survive and to be more in tuned with our truth, thus allowing true self to be expressed (Pearson, 2003). By drawing on Jung, we might be meeting with the unconsciousness when we become reunited with aspects of ourselves that were not present in our everyday life (Pearson, 2003). Drama and play have “the transcendent function that creates a symbolic bridge between the realm of the unconscious and the phenomenal world of human experiences” (Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2012, p. 70). However, personal change can also be understood from the postmodern perspective, relying on Foucault (1988) who argues for dispersion of the self and who liberates an individual from the Truth. He explains that the self is not discovered, but the subject is produced through interplay of knowledge and power. Foucault and particularly Nikolas Rose who uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to investigate production of soul through knowledge, have cleared the space for reinvention and reinterpretation of an individual that is not understood as a personality.

The use of drama in education

Yet, how to apply deconstruction to education? How not to offer answers and solutions to learners? If we apply the Sesame Approach, that works with metaphors and stays in oblique to the field of adult education, we can move away from fixing or producing fixed subjects, into opening spaces for imaginative education through improvisation and play. By working with or in imagination there is a constant process of wondering, wandering, floating and becoming. The Sesame Approach refuses to bow down too quickly with definition and explanation allowing soul to speak in patchwork fragments (Smail, 2013). Since the language is a way to describe the self, and thus govern the soul (Rose, 2003), by working with movement, images, connections through silence, the space is less contaminated with prevailing psy-discourses. Psychological fact is not only something evolved, but also continually evolving and creating (Jung, in Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2010). For education this means that learning environments transform into laboratory and learners experiment by who they are and what they might become. We are still in the realm of unconscious, not the one that is phallocentric, but seen as a “plurality or multiplicity that does not belong to the scope of traditional psychoanalytic thought. It is the unconscious as multiplicity that ultimately connects us not with private but public—social, political, and world-historical—existence” (Deleuze and Guattary, in Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2012, p. 71). Learning trough joining unconscious expressed through images and metaphor is bringing into being which does not yet exist (Deleuze, 1994, p. 147). By looking at drama in education from postmodern perspective, joint with Jungian concepts, I believe that the method facilitates the integration of the unconscious into consciousness which becomes a constitutive part of subject-formation (Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2012).

The structure of imaginative spaces

Within the Sesame Approach the structure of the session has been developed, allowing a person to slowly enter the space of imagination, through warming up, bridging in, experiencing a main event, bridge out and grounding the experience – or returning to here and now. Imaginative space is not reached through thinking about, but it is embodied and lived. The Sesame primary premise is that both body and imagination – movement combined with drama – are needed as a means of raising self-esteem and making life changes – it is non-performance orientated and is geared to the creative process, rather than the expertise of the finished product (Sesame Institute, 2015). “Learning happens when a body actualizes its virtual potenciesthus creating new assemblages. It is only in the real-life experiential singularitywithin an encounter with actual waves where the virtual ‘essence’ or ‘idea’ of swimmingsubsists thereby potentially allow us to comprehend its meaning. Experience is thusparamount for learning, for creating novel meanings embedded in what Deleuze calledthe pedagogy of the concept” (Semetsky & Delpech-Ramey, 2010, p. 74).

A few notes for adult educators

I would like to conclude with a few words that I find it particularly important when it comes to facilitation of the learning session that uses drama as a method. Art can be seductive. As facilitators we can be blinded by colourful activities, characters and humour and perhaps by our “unlived artist” that wants to be seen and recognized. I already emphasized that drama can bring up vulnerability and fear and it is powerful in taking us to the journey to the land of the “unknown”. I believe that it is crucial for the process to be less ambitious and more present for the participants, because if one is not taking care of them, the process can be potentially harming, instead of liberating. Thus, I believe that more in depth training for adult educators who want to use drama and movement would give them more knowledge and self-confidence. The Sesame Approach is an example of theoretically based methodology and the Sesame practitioners are committed to the professionalization of facilitators.


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Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Univ. of Massachusetts Press.

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Rose, N. (1990). Governing the soul: the shaping of the private self. Taylor & Frances/Routledge.

Semetsky, I., & Delpech‐Ramey, J. A. (2012). Jung’s Psychology and Deleuze’s Philosophy: The unconscious in learning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(1), 69-81.

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European InfoNet Adult Education, 05.07.2015