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The ‘Bronze Age People’ project was a milestone Mantle of the Expert project which Dorothy did in the early ‘80s. In the drama, children were given the ‘frame’ of historians / anthropologists, charged with setting up a sociological experiment: to see if people today could live in a recreation of a Bronze Age community.

Phyl Herbert wrote her M.Ed. thesis on it, in 1982; and also co-wrote an article with Dorothy called "A Drama of Learning: Mantle of the Expert" ("Theory into Practice," Summer 1985). You can access a copy of Phyl's thesis, below.

In this video, David Allen and Phyl Herbert discuss Mantle of the Expert and the Bronze Age People project. It is a recording of an event hosted by London Drama and National Drama, on 25.11.21.

"THE DRAMA OF THE MIND"

Dorothy once said that her energy as a teacher always went on ‘building the possibility of thickness’. This meant, in part, building the ‘drama of the mind’—the imaginative immersion in the world of the drama. 

 

She stated: ‘I would say you are always in the play whenever the mind’s image begins to affect how you're feeling about what's going on here’ (1)There are numerous examples of this image-making in the ‘Bronze Age’ project...

Dorothy began by writing the words ‘Bronze Age People’ on a blackboard, in large, jagged letters, as if they had been carved in stone by a metal instrument. The class were invited to ‘turn your eyes inwards and conjure up pictures in your mind of this collective time’ (2)They sketched some of the images that came into their minds. Dorothy offered a model; she said, “I’m seeing a spear but I don’t know how to draw it.”

At the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference (2021), delegates recreated some of the tasks from the project...

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Later in the drama, Dorothy invited the children to imagine they had been on a visit to a Bronze Age village in a time machine, and again, to conjure up images of what they saw (2).

"MEGALITHIC STONES"

At this point, six actor/teachers were deployed to stand in as megalithic stones, which the Bronze Age community lived near. They were draped in black cloth and wore coloured masks.  

Earlier she has told the class, when they were drawing their pictures: “…we’ll see the Bronze Age in our mind’s eye and then the Stones will appear and we’ll look up and see that the Bronze Age is here.” Their appearance then marked a transition - from the image in the mind, to the manifestation of this world, as if real.

Now she said: “That’s the place where the Bronze Age Village was, now try and see all the people living around the place, building things.” 

Again, she offered a model: “That’s the place we’ve been to – (Pause) I saw children laughing around the fire but I didn’t get the feeling how they lit the fires.” The children added their own ideas: “I saw a boat” ... “I saw a bronze knife” ... and so on. (2)

 

In the original project, some of Dorothy's students represented "Standing Stones." One of them was Luke Abbott. In this video from the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference, Luke speaks as a "Standing Stone"...

“INTERVIEWING” CANDIDATES FOR THE BRONZE AGE VILLAGE

The group were now placed in the frame of historians/archaeologists – with the task of sifting through applications to take part in the Bronze Age village experiment.

This image shows the “advert” for applications. This became the “master” document for the project, because it presents the problem in a tightly focused way, while at the same time offering a range of learning possibilities for the drama.

The task for the students was to sift through the “applications” from prospective applicants. These had been prepared beforehand, and each one contains a possible problem or implication.

 

The class broke into pairs to consider individual applications. See below for an example of an application. (Here, the applicant is a forester who was trained at an agricultural college – surely a valuable person for the project!)

Dorothy was in role as the “chairperson,” and discussed one application, as a “model” to the class:

 

“I have a form here from a man who is 27 years of age and already he has had four different types of jobs. What do you make of that? …

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“Either he finds it difficult to remain in one job or else he is very versatile. I wonder does he realize that he will have to stay in one place for six years with this experiment – after all we want stickers not drifters. Well, has anybody come across anything interesting?”

 

The discussion opened up into a wide range of areas – for example, education, arising from an application from a couple who wanted to bring their 4 year-old child with them.

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A Theory of Education as Presented through the Drama Process 'Mantle of the Expert', which offers a detailed account of the project. There is also a file of project materials, including a set of sheets which outline tasks for groups to undertake, in ‘recreating’ Bronze Age life—such as:

Your task this day is to fashion the rope harness for the cow. Take strong reeds from the river bed, make them soft and pliable so that they may twist and hold when plaited firm …

 

And:

Your task is to shape the molten bronze into a cutting knife so that a beast may be dismembered, its skin stretched and scraped, and flesh be cut from bone…

 

And:

Your task is to set the two great Quern stones ready into place—make the hollow for the grain with flint and bronzen knife; carve the runnels for the grounden flour… [etc.] (Heathcote 1984b.)

the ‘Bronze Age People’ project, which culminated in a ‘crisis’ situation: a fire in the village. Here are some of Dorothy’s own notes from the Archive:

They [the children] decided to explore the disaster of a fire in the roundhouse. The contract was made, as was assessment of the various possibilities of combustion related with material, watchfulness, and responsibility in such circumstances.

 

From then on, the normal activity associated with the feast of Samhain was developed in now-action time. (Heathcote, in Herbert & Heathcote 1985a.)

 

In generating the drama of the fire, there was again an emphasis on task. The actions which the group had performed previously, such as making wicker baskets, grinding flour with the quern stones, etc., were performed again. There was, again, an emphasis on the ‘drama of the mind,’ in working with imagined objects such as the stones, the baskets, the firewood etc.; and, added to this, the children imagined the first signs of ‘danger.’ She told them:

From now on the fire can only happen to us... We told you how it might be beginning. From the newly woven basket there. ... The fire has to happen to us. I can't deal with it now. We all have to be equally responsible for the truthfulness —and we are inside a wooden building with a thatched roof ... and... a hot stone missing... On you go, get on with the day... (Qtd. Herbert 1982, p. 103.)

 

This was not a ‘living through’ drama, however. Rather, there was a slowing down of experience, to build the ‘possibility of thickness’. As the fire was prepared,

at contracted intervals a ‘stop time’ convention was used and any individual could state what fire risks they perceived because of the tasks they were engaged with. (Heathcote, in Herbert & Heathcote 1985a.)

 

The group planned how exactly the ‘fire’ would happen:

It was agreed that a hot stone should go astray, smoulder patiently amid new wicker baskets still wet from forming and weaving, and eventually leap into hot flame. (ibid.)

 

Again, there was a ‘drama of the mind’:

At each ‘stop time’ moment individuals gave tiny pieces of information which allowed an escalation of danger to be anticipated and experienced as ‘frissons of possibility.’ (ibid.)

 

The drama reflected another key principle of Dorothy’s work (and another way in which she was always ‘in the same place’): the need for reflection alongside action. (In 1978, she wrote that “every teaching tool I have has been hewn to supply and feed reflection’ on experiences [1978 p.11].) In the ‘fire’ drama, she wrote, the participants

create possibility, whilst the spectator within each participant create[s] and own[s] the knowledge arising from the combination of possibility, action, and outcome. At no point do the participants ‘flee the fire’ and hurry through to an ending. Instead they understand and plot the experience of fire danger, as it escalates, until finally they engage with the decisions about choice to leave and the last placement of bodies with considerations of even the last thoughts of such people.

 

Thus drama can fulfil its true function, namely, the exploration of the affairs of mankind. (Heathcote, in Herbert & Heathcote 1985.)

(1) David Davis 1985: 68; italics in original).

qtd. Herbert 1982: 15