Gonzaga University Associate Professor John Hofland, director of Gonzaga’s theatre department, has received a $2,500 Theatre Communications Group grant to travel to the Ukraine this coming summer to study the internationally renowned Odessa Puppet Theatre.
Hofland plans to spend three weeks with the acclaimed group, study their use of theatre activities with youth, and compare it with his own work with at-risk youth.
Hofland previously worked with Odessa Puppet Theatre Director Eugene Gimelfarb in 2000, when Gimelfarb came to Gonzaga with wife Natasha and the couple directed a puppet theater show as Fulbright Scholars-in-Residence. Also, in 1995 Hofland designed a production for the Kharkiv, Ukraine, State Puppet Theatre while working as a Fulbright Lecturer there.
Hofland said there are striking differences between his work and that of the Gimelfarbs in the Ukraine.
The American theatre system is based on principles that date back to the English Progressive Education Movement. The American tradition has emphasized self-expression and self-realization, Hofland said. In its early formulation this emphasis on self was done at the expense of interdisciplinary connections, at the expense of using drama to reflect on material in other curricular areas, and even at the expense of teaching the art form of theatre. That emphasis has been shifting over a century-long process.
On the other hand, the Ukrainian/Russian system has built its foundation on the rigors of theatre training established by such masters as Stanislavski, Meyerhold, and others. While the American system has valued creativity and self-expression as the foundation for making drama, the Ukrainian system has valued skill, discipline, and imitative activity wherein students carefully follow the teacher’s directions.
In each case the goal of the work is the same — to use drama as a means to teach literacy, social skills, oral communication, and elementary acting.
How might the work at the puppet theatre in Odessa influence Hofland’s work? The answer lies somewhere in the interface between the two approaches, he said.
“We both expect to learn from each other. I expect to learn much from their structure, from their approach to movement training and from their use of music as a teaching tool in early stages of training in drama,” Hofland said. “I suspect they will learn from my approach to story dramatization and from my use of art and drawing as a foundation for theatre training with children.”
Students in Hofland’s creative dramatics classes teach drama to children at the Spokane Boys and Girls Club as a service-learning project. That project aims more to build self-esteem and social skills with at-risk children, and gives GU students the ability to use the method as a teaching tool or for recreational use.
For more information, please call John Hofland at (509) 323-6657.