I originally created this process drama for a Poetry Society Poets-in-schools placement at a school in Standish. It took me weeks of work – no internet in those days – to do the research as each participant is given their own role card so that they can retrace the journey of a real person who was on The Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912, when she struck an iceberg and sank after an agonising two hours, into the depths of the frozen Atlantic ocean.
I found Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember the most useful and detailed guide to the events of that terrible night when so many people died needlessly because the ship’s owners had rashly believed that their ship was unsinkable because of the watertight chambers its designer Thomas Andrews included. There were insufficient lifeboats, although there was no breach of the law, and there had been no drill. Furthermore the lifeboats were all in the first class area. Consequently lower classes were far less likely to survive, the ship’s crew were not priorities and staff like the band, the hairdressers, cooks and so on counted very little in the stakes. Whole families were lost from third class, and from first class, because of the rule women and children first, some noteable men of the time went down with their ship. John Jacob Aster and Ben Guggenheim were among those men who defiantly put on their dinner suits and went down ‘like gentlemen’.
The participants were wonderful, really joined in and went for it, although none of them had ever done such a thing before. Essentially, process drama is everyone making up a play together in accordance with a structure designed in advance. Everyone is in role, including the leader, which is why you see me wearing my Captain’s hat – Captain Smith manages the drama from within. I can come out of role when needed by removing the signifier.
The workshop culminates in the writing of a poem or story in role. The whole drama is carried out with the utmost respect and can be very moving.