Untamala, Annemari Lectio Praecursoria

Athena sent them a favoring breeze from the west  that rippled over the wine-dark sea. The large white sail bellied out with the wind, and on either side of the ship’s prow the deep blue water sang out as the ship flew forwards.

(Life is an odyssey)

Life is an odyssey. Our journey of progress takes place in a rapidly changing world in which nothing is certain. Questions like “How to survive” and “Why to survive” are present daily in this age of “supercomplexity” that we live in. According to researcher and developer of higher education, Ronald Barnett, in “supercomplexity” we need to cope with our uncertainties caused by the overload of information and multiplication of relevant knowledge and by the inadequacy of facing chaos. It takes courage to move away from the overfamiliar, but how do we gain it in order to cope with not-knowing in theatre and in this adventure of life?

(Theatre teacher training process)

Having no clear forms of right knowing and tolerating chaos have always been essential elements of practicing theatre. Becoming a theatre teacher is a basic social process of personal and professional development that is connected with a paradox: one gains knowledge in theatre by moving into the area of the unknown. The earlier studies show that the participants gain confidence in practicing theatre. This study conceptualizes how participants at the theatre teacher training program cope with not-knowing and how they work to resolve their concern by building confidence together. The more one dares to, the more one gains confidence, with the help of the others and by helping others. This is accomplished both consciously and unconsciously.

(Not knowing)

The goddess, who was disguised as Mentor, said: “You mustn’t be shy now. Go right up to Nestor.”

Telemachus answered: “Mentor, how can I go? How can I put myself forwards like that? I am not an experienced speaker, and it is embarrassing for me to question a man so greatly my elder.”

Athena said: “Telemachus, just start speaking; some god will certainly put the right words in your mouth. I do not think you were born without heaven’s favour.”

Not-knowing makes theatre very fascinating and enigmatic, but it can be frightening and confusing, too. Broadly theatre knowledge in the context of this study consists of a set of skills that are artistic or pedagogical in nature, or a combination of both. The theory of coping with not-knowing by co-confidencing encompasses this broad theatrical knowledge needed in teaching theatre that the participants of this study were trying to acquire or improve during their teacher training program at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki.

The main source of the data consists of the learning journals of the participants and of my own learning journals and my observation notes. I was involved in the training program (by planning, teaching and participating in it) and gained experience from practice, yet through grounded theory method I also gained objectivity and a way of perceiving the process without having my own expectations hinder me from exploring what is happening among the participants.

(The method)

Classic grounded theory method was developed by Anselm Strauss and Barney Glaser in the 60’s primarily at sociologists, but the method can be used by anyone who is interested in studying social phenomena. The power of the method lies in the meaning it can have for the people in the substantive area under focus.

Grounded theorist asks: “What’s going on?”. The generation of theory consists of several steps: data collecting, open coding of the data, theoretical sampling, generating memos and emerging of the core of the process concerned. In coding I went through my data an incident by an incident, naming them and comparing them to each other. In theoretical sampling I was asking: ”What is the main concern of the participants and how is it processed or resolved? The memos are notes that the analyst writes to capture her ideas on the coding.

The analysis goes on with selective theoretical sampling, coding and memoing until the saturation of the memos takes place and it is time to start sorting. Saturation means that the researcher starts to see the same thing over and over again in the data and in the memos; there are no surprises. The sorting means that the memos are organized by chapters and by chapter sections and finally they are written up.

(Co-confidencing)

Co-confidencing is the action of building confidence together with the others involved in the theatre teacher training process. The theory of coping with not-knowing by co-confidencing consists of categories and properties that conceptualize a way of building confidence. The sub-core categories of supportive sharing, meaning-making and practicing form three stages of the theory. They all have several subcategories. Each category has its own properties that also relate to the core category. The three stages overlap and weave together. Together all account for this process by which the participants gain acceptance, appreciation and competence. This ongoing process does not proceed chronologically with the training but instead all the stages go on simultaneously throughout the program. During this period individuals are in different stages at the same time and one can experience the same stages several times.

(I shall be with you)

Much-enduring Odysseus was overjoyed to be back in his own country.

Odysseus said… “Stand by my side yourself and fill me with strength and boldness. If you support me and fight by my side, I can face three hundred men and slaughter them all.

Athena smiled and patted his hand. She had changed her form, and she now appeared as a woman, tall and beautiful and intelligent,

and she said… “Certainly I shall be with you when the time comes. But now I go to Sparta, the land of beautiful women, to summon your dear son Telemachus, who has sailed there to ask Menelaus for news of you, in the hope of learning if you are alive after all these years.”

Odysseus said to her: ”Goddess, why didn’t you tell him? You knew all about it, so why did he have to suffer on the restless sea, strangers devour his goods?”

Athena answered, “Don’t worry about him, Odysseus. I myself escorted him, so on his journey he might win the praise of mankind for his exertions.”

(Fit, workability, relevance, modifiability)

Grounded theory studies are evaluated differently than many other types of research. I didn’t have a hypothesis that I would have tried to verify. Instead, during this research I applied four criteria that are used to address issues of rigor in grounded theory studies: fit, workability, relevance and modifiability.

The theory of co-confidencing has “fit”. I had neither pre-existing categories that I would have tried to make the data fit in nor were there any pieces of data that did not fit into the theory. The data fits the process of coping with not-knowing and the phenomenon of co-confidencing.

The theory of coping with not-knowing works in explaining what happened in the theatre teacher training program. It outlines what the participants did to gain acceptance, appreciation and competence.

Co-confidencing is relevant in the area of theatre pedagogy. The theory shows that when learning theatre pedagogy participants gain confidence but not on their own. They need others to support them and to lend support to the others.

This theory would easily be modifiable if new data were collected. An interesting field would be the Master’s Degree program for theatre teachers. Or, one could move from the area of theatre pedagogy to the professional training of theatre artists, especially actors and directors.

Due to its general implications grounded theory can be used freely outside the place, unit and time in which it was generated. I have used the theory of co-confidencing to develop my play directing processes and I have applied it in my teaching at upper secondary school. With the historical perspective I can see that co-confidencing has been going on in theatre activities long before the teacher training program in which it was the focus of this study. Referring to the ideas of Ronald Barnett, it is most likely that the theory of co-confidencing won’t be soon outdated, either. Barnett sees that living in the supercomplex world calls for engaging in pedagogy of uncertainty with open pedagogical frames. According to him, “will to learn” is the most important concept in education as it is the motivating power helping students to persist in uncertainty. In co-confidencing process the participants enhance their will to learn.

The generated theory broadens the understanding about learning in the context of theatre and theatre pedagogy. Theatre and theatre education are currently under change in Finland. Contemporary theatre with its countless variations and possibilities seeks new kinds of pedagogical approaches. This poses challenges for practicing and learning theatre. The theory of co-confidencing leaves no doubt about the need for confidence in facing the unknown. It also shows, that facing the unknown is a way to build confidence. The acknowledgement of this paradox helps educators in teacher training, higher education and in professional development programs also outside of theatre pedagogy to support confidence-building among participants by ensuring the supportive circumstances.

This generated theory offers broad applications and as such it could quite easily be developed into a formal theory with new data and other substantive theories. A formal theory explaining how people in different situations in human life persist not-knowing and have the strength to go forward is needed in times of uncertainty.

We need others in this odyssey of life. In my quotations from Homer’s story and Stephen Mitchell’s translation we have heard how Odysseus and his son Telemachus needed their friends and goddesses over 3000 years ago. Just the same way we need friends, colleagues, others; these today’s “Mentors” and “Athenas” for the favoring breeze and the supportive atmosphere, we need them in order to manage challenges and to win the praise of mankind, and we need them in order to put into practice our experience and to grow in that. In this supercomplex world we desire to overpower our troubles and to believe in ourselves with the help of others, in theatre and in life on the whole.

(You are not alone, your troubles will soon be over)

Odysseus said, “How am I going to overpower these insolent suitors, alone as I am against the whole gang of them here?”

Athena said to him, “Shame on you! Many men have greater trust in their friends than you have in me – friends who are mere mortals, devoid of cunning. But I am a god. I have come to your aid in all your hardships. Go to sleep now. Lying awake will do nothing but sap your strength. I promise you that your troubles will soon be over. Lying awake will do nothing but sap your strength. I promise you that your troubles will soon be over. Your troubles will soon be over.”

(Homeros/ The Stephen Mitchell Translation, 2013: The Odyssey)

 

3.4.2014

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