Why use theatrical masks in an engineering school?

We often get asked this question, as drama practice is more commonly seen as a way of reconciling students with an academic subject, whereas in fact these engineering students tend to have a higher language level than other non-language students. However, Caroline Preller has noted certain hidden difficulties. For example, the students may master linguistic forms in the language they’re studying, but they often come out with clichéd arguments and have a tendency to use their favourite set phrases. They often see “intercultural communication” as a tool to “convey a message” through taking into account their knowledge of the speaker’s culture. They tend to have a comparative, intellectual and a rather un-reflexive approach to languages which favours stereotypes. They also have difficulty taking into consideration the non-verbal aspects of communication. As the representation they have of languages is mainly functional, they underestimate the significance of emotion communicated via the body in interaction. Or they may have an academic command of the language, but fail to effectively master it because they lack reflexive skills. So the first stage of the module works on transforming attitudes and beliefs surrounding the concept of what it means to study a language.

Course aims

The main aims outlined below are interdependent and non-hierarchical and form part of an embodied, enactive and ecological approach to languages and cultures.

·   Enable students to become aware that how their bodies and other people’s bodies move impacts listening and understanding

·   Generate whole body engagement.

·   Develop awareness of the emotional mechanisms and emotional intelligence inherent in interactions

·   Develop the ability to improvise in another language (English) in unknown situations

·   Develop collective creativity. Learn to accept other people’s proposals and create something that is more than the sum of its individual parts, (a framework of complexity)

·   Develop the skill of reading/interpreting “silent” languages and explore ways of connecting to others, especially when they do not share the same cultural codes

·   Develop empathy through the decentring that occurs in mask work

·   Increase linguistic ability – paradoxically, when you put a mask on, you have to take care with pronunciation, diction and expression, as your visual and auditory reference points shift.

·   Develop teamwork skills by accomplishing common goals, in this case collectively writing a play that emerges from group work and improvisations.

·   Develop metacognitive skills around the sensory experiences linked to mask work·   Develop self-efficacy

Learning objectives

Fig. 2: Learning objectives

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