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March 5, 2010

Dutch Actor Conducts Drama Training for University Students, Area Teachers

Dutch actorTheater training often sounds like a purely creative outlet, but trainers and participants in two recent drama trainings at Bethlehem University would disagree. They say it has visible benefits for students who learn drama skills and practical applications for classroom teachers.

Getting un-stuck

Bethlehem University student Ahmad Musallam (’13), for instance, believes that drama gives people a way to explore their own personalities and helps them understand their own weaknesses. His two-week training with Dutch actor and drama coach Flip Filz and Bethlehem University Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Hala Al-Yamani, says Musallam, has given him greater independence and self-confidence—characteristics that will help him interact with clients in his future hotel management career.

Dutch actorA member of the Bethlehem University Drama Society, Musallam likes the challenge of theater acting because “reality is in the theater,” he says.  “In life there is no scene repeat. You cannot have the same chance twice or the same scene twice (like you can in movies).” The training included improvisation scenes, where Musallam and his colleagues were asked to make up scenes, give them continuity and conclude them. After the initial scene idea, participants had to keep building on it to keep the play going and reach a conclusion. “Improvisation training teaches you how to find a way out of situations,” says Musallam. “You never find yourself stuck. … This applies to life too.”

What Musallam means, explains Filz, is that acting “mistakes” can be turned into another part of the drama, that what defines a mistake is not the action but how one responds to it. “While acting we should not hide our mistakes but use them,” Filz says.

Small events, big stories

Eight students attended the course, which was funded by Expos(t)e foundation—a Dutch non-governmental organization that works in developing countries to broaden the personal and professional perspectives of local students by exposing them, in practical ways, to a professional international working environment. Because connecting with other professionals is helpful in any field and throughout one’s career, the foundation is pleased to cooperate with both Palestinian students and University staff who are eager to initiate and further develop professional international contacts. Expos(t)e also coordinated a career development workshop for Bethlehem University students last May, bringing in a Dutch career coach to help students outline future career paths.

In this training, Filz taught students to re-think their ideas about drama. Instead of speaking in grand themes, he believes that students can make powerful points in more subtle ways. “Big things hide themselves in small subjects,” he says.

For example, Filz explained, a student told him about a dream she had one night. In it, she wanted desperately to buy her favorite flavor of ice cream in Jerusalem, but she could not because she did not have permission to go there. Telling this story adds a human dimension to the system of Israeli-issued permits that govern West Bank Palestinians’ access to Jerusalem. When she tells the story of her dream, he says, “I feel the drama.” It includes simple things—a girl’s very basic desire and the disappointment of knowing that desire cannot be met—Filz says, that make valuable dramatic material.  

“Rehearsing life”

Besides working with drama students, Filz also accompanied Al-Yamani in training 16 primary school teachers participating in the Faculty of Education "Quality of Education for All Through Partnership" project. The six drama training sessions, which started on 18 January 2010, were part of a series of programs designed to help teachers explore innovative teaching methods and, in this case, improve students’ ability to express themselves.  

For children with special needs, drama can be not only a tool but a life line. Alison Nasrallah (BU ’05), a sports teacher at Ephpheta school in Bethlehem who trains students with hearing difficulties, explains: “Because (my students) have hearing problems, their language is not rich, and they find it hard to express themselves. Drama helps me teach them ways to communicate their feelings and needs more efficiently.”

Nasrallah had studied drama while she was a student at Bethlehem University but felt she needed a kind of refresher course. Besides, notes Filz, the job of teachers is different from that of actors. They do not need the same drama skills University students worked on, but they do need to understand what drama means as an educational tool. He believes that children play through drama and that “by playing they are rehearsing life.” Teachers who are able to help their students use that play in the learning process, he explains, make education much more effective.

Improved teaching methods also drew Shadia Sha’alen to the training course. A teacher with seven years of experience, Sha’alen says, “I can use the ideas and the methods that I learned here in inventing new methods in teaching, activating the curriculum and helping students to better understand their lessons.”

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Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
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Bethlehem, Palestine