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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Remote Theatre: Communicating Creatively Across Cultures Through Screen Technology

David Heathfield is a freelance storyteller, teacher and teacher trainer. He is the author of Storytelling With Our Students: Techniques for Telling Tales from Around the World and Spontaneous Speaking: Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency, both published by DELTA Publishing. He is a member of The Creativity Group.


Screen obsession

Over the last twenty years it is screen technology that has brought most change to the way English is taught in the classroom contexts I’m familiar with. But all too often classroom teachers are doing the same things on screens that we did before on paper. Perhaps now we’re in the digital age that’s what we think we’re supposed to do. Face to face communication and kinaesthetic learning are easily overlooked and forgotten – I notice students in many classrooms are seated for entire lessons in front of their own individual electronic device screens or the classroom screen. Even when we’re not using it, the classroom screen often remains switched on in the background. What is happening to us? It’s not only teachers who worry that we’re becoming too screen-obsessed in class -  often it’s young students who ask me to please turn off the screen because they’re already spending more time on screen outside class than they know is good for them.

Surely the question we should be asking ourselves is when and how long is it beneficial for learners to be on screen in the classroom.


Remote Theatre

One particular use of screens in the classroom which has definitely been beneficial is students communicating across cultures with other students by video. Live video conferencing is great but can be challenging because of technical hitches, communication breakdown and ineffective use of time. The most success my students have experienced has been when they create and rehearse a piece of theatre in class before recording a video performance to be shared with a specific audience. Nick Bilbrough founded The Hands Up Project charity to give young students in Palestine and other places in crisis the chance to communicate and learn English creatively with teachers and students around the world. The first play creating competition generated an explosion of creativity. Over eighty plays were entered and I had the privilege of being on the judging panel and was blown away by the raw power of the theatre made by young people living in crisis. Thirty-nine of those plays are available to watch on YouTube

LipGmmYFRM and the scripts of thirty of the plays are published in the book Toothbrush These and more new plays are increasingly being performed live to audiences around the world. This new form which Nick Bilbrough calls Remote Theatre is a fast-developing and powerful theatre form, giving students the opportunity to reach out around the world.

The first time the adult learners I teach in Exeter, UK got involved in this exchange, was when they performed a play scripted by students at the Beit Hanoun prep girls school A Gaza and followed up by communicating directly with the students. I wrote a blog about this which you can read at

Just two weeks before writing this, Nihan from Turkey and Akari from Japan, the two adult intermediate students I was teaching in Exeter, UK, spent a total of four hours learning about Gaza and the Hands Up Project and creating a piece of theatre inspired by a play called My Mother-in-law is a Trouble-maker made by teenage girls and their teacher at Balah Prep [A] girls UNRWA school, Gaza. This time, instead of performing the play as written, my students in Exeter watched the first half of the play with the volume muted. They were able to deduce the mother-in-law daughter-in-law relationship straight away and read the emotions from the physically expressive performances. They listed possible topics of conflict in this relationship and created their own version of my Mother-in-law is a Trouble-maker in response. On completion of the task there was an exchange of emails which tells the rest of the story.

Online correspondence

On 7 Dec 2018, at 09:28, David Heathfield wrote:

Dear Camellia, Nour, Amani, Nagham, Shahd and Manar


Hello, I'm David Heathfield from the UK and I teach English to adults from many different countries who come to study in Exeter, Devon. I'm also a volunteer with the Hands Up Project and a good friend of Nick Bilbrough.

In four hours on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon this week my students Akari and Nihan did a mini theatre project with me. They were really interested to read about the work of UNRWA and also about The Hands Up Project, so I showed them the first half of your wonderful video 'My Mother-in-law is a Troublemaker' with no sound They were impressed by the strong emotions you expressed physically and they improvised their own version of that first half of the story which they then scripted. After that they watched the first half of your video again and listened - they were really excited to hear your words expressed with such passion and energy. The next afternoon they improvised the second half of their play with me and after a couple of rehearsals we recorded the whole video in one take with a fixed camera. Here it is:

Then we watched the whole of your video and compared the two versions. Nihan and Akari loved the wise man's beautiful trick in your play!

Finally we recorded this message for you: and wrote these emails (see below).

We hope you enjoy what we did. Doing this mini-project really helped us all to understand your situation in Gaza. Also Nihan and Akari enjoyed playing with emotions in English through drama.

If you have time, please write to us. Nihan is returning to Turkey this weekend but if you have time to speak to me and Akari on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, that would be lovely.

Wishing you all well



Hello, I’m Akari Kusunoki from Japan. I’m studying English now.

I really enjoyed your acting. It was such an exciting and funny story. And we sometimes see this situation in Japan, so I felt close to you.

I was really enjoyed making this video and tried to make it clear to understand.

The meaning of this story is we can find a solution to make good relationship, even if there are a lot of disagreements. And suddenly the chance might come to us.

I really wish you freedom and happiness in the future. And I hope we live happily together as women in our own situation, and have a good relationship with our mother in laws in future too!!

I hope you enjoy our video.

Best wishes



Hello, I am Nihan Tever from Turkey. I am learning English language now. I am feeling happy watching your video. I have been affected by your acting then decided to try acting for you. I like your story because it is a common terrible situation in a lot of countries. As I understand, if you were completely free, I am sure that you could choose a different story because this story depends on your freedom. In the future I hope that you will be completely free. We prepared a video like your video to make you happy. I love you Gaza and your amazing people. I pray for you to be completely free.

Best wishes



Mon 10/12/2018, 20:20

This is me Manar , I'm so glad to watch your performance Mr. David as the wise man (neighbor) .( You make the best coffee in the village) self confidence (failure in preparing the coffee without the help of the lady) sending a message .

You did a good job to let them express their feelings face to face and to discuss the daily problems .repeating their words while solving the problem is a good way to relief the situation. .also when you ask her (Who are you? This means she's just married) and she can't treat her new family well.

I did that, just through the trick to let them come closer and to break the ice between them.

Thanks from our deep hearts for all you do for the Palestinian kids

Thanks Nihan Tever and Akari Kusunoki

Hello , I am Amani (the mother in law) In fact your words touched my heart Nihan Tever. We always pray to be free ,we deserve a better life here in Palestine.

I liked your way of acting and your quietness and calmness, none can feel the harsh of loneliness like aged people .In the Palestinian society we respect aged people as well as we could even if they confuse us. I felt warm to understand the cause of being upset.

Hello. I'm Nour (the daughter in law) I'm flying in the sky because I watched the videos .

It means a lot for me , my classmates and every child in my country. We are really proud to know that our dreams will be true once, we believe in our issue and we will be free

Life is full of troubles and people are born kind. As we contact each other at home ,at work even at school, there must be misunderstanding. This leads to struggle and daily conflict

Akari ..When I watched your lovely video , I laughed many times, keeping whispering and threatening her to complain to your husband. (asking for hot tea and getting hot coffee and refusing to drink it )here we blame the mother in law.

(asking the aged woman to give a hand in the house chores) ( I'm not afraid of your son ) here we blame the daughter in law. I realized that we should change minds.

I'm shahd, thanks all for your kind words in the email we get .I liked the end of your play when they could overcome all the troubles and start a new warm relationship.

Regards from me, Nagham. So pleased to watch the two videos and the email I' ll talk about Mr. David's trick when he cooked an awful dish, and he paved the way at first, a brilliant behavior to solve the problem

Thank you our teacher Camellia for giving us this unique chance, special thanks to Mr David, Miss Akari and Miss Nihan.. Big thanks to Mr Nick and the Hand up Project

Tue 11/12, 21:18

Thank you for sending us wonderful messages and I’m so happy to read your thoughts. And I am realized that we have a lot of same thinking. I deeply wish your freedom and your happiness in the future.

Thank you for giving us such a beautiful experience, David.

Best wishes



Wed 12/12, 21:15

I read your message and I should admit that it was very sensitive.  I wish one day I can visit you. I feel your problem with your freedom  as my own problem. Allah is always with you, so do not be hopeless. 



Screen creativity

Of course the process got Nihan and Akari working in a limited time frame on reading, writing, listening and speaking with a focus on pronunciation. But of course the experience was far greater than that. They responded creatively through drama improvisation to serious issues raised in the students from Gaza’s play. The learning about other cultures and the deep satisfaction of moving beyond boundaries of what Akari and Nihan had believed possible in the language classroom were of indescribable value. They related closely to the topic of the play, found a great deal of common ground and acknowledged the circumstances of young people in a region in crisis. It is clear from their responses that the girls in Gaza were delighted to find that the theatre they created had such an impact beyond their borders.

In another recent blog post, Nick Bilbrough shares a further recent experience of students in Peru performing their own adaptations of plays created in Gaza, which you can read here . There are evidently a number of ways of communicating creatively across cultures through theatre by means of screen technology.

The actual classroom time spent on screens was relatively little in the four hours my students dedicated to this remote theatre project, but those moments were rich beyond words. Let’s be mindful of how our students use screen technology during lesson time and make it time-efficient, meaningful, creative, playful and rich in learning.


Please check the Creative Methodology for Using ICT in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Drama Techniques for the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the 21st Century thinking Skills course at Pilgrims website.

  • Remote Theatre: Communicating Creatively Across Cultures Through Screen Technology
    David Heathfield, Europe

  • On Embracing Change: Observations From a Technophile
    Daniel Martin, Spain

  • Cross-Curricular Activities Through Arts and Crafts and English with Young Learners
    Zhivka Ilieva, Bulgaria;Iliya Iliev, Bulgaria