Serious play : exploring literacies and masculinities within drama companies for young adults



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This multi-site case study examines literacy practices across four theatre companies for young adults. The study draws upon ethnographic methods including interviews, field notes, and video data to show how composing practices situated with acts of design fostered multiple entry points through text, a multimodal stance when reading, collaboration, play, shared response, and sustained engagement in the orchestration of available modalities in the creation of characters. Drawing upon theories of multimodality, play, and masculinities, the study links literacy practices in drama with the configuration of historically subordinated, non-normative masculinities, including self-identified gay youth. These young men reported excessive self-monitoring and identity management strategies within heteronormative school contexts, but took-up a plurality of masculinities as they engaged design practices that encouraged play, risk-taking, and the appropriation of available media in their design of characters. The study cultivates an awareness of how literacy practices in drama intersected with affirming construction of non-normative gendered and sexual identities typically subordinated in school settings, but that were reportedly more aligned with informants’ sense of self. The study draws implications for how educators may help young people critique structures of heternormativity and hegemonic masculinities that often limit the identities and masculinities available in school. In addition, the study draws implications for classroom practice in the language arts that position youth as designers of multimodal texts that allow for multiple representations of the self.