Learning through drama
Simpson teacher uses plays to touch social issues

by Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Nov 07/97) - When the writing bug hits, Matthew Brown is up long before the dawn.

"I usually write very early in the morning," the Fort Simpson playwright-teacher says. "When I start to write a play, it's a two packs of cigarettes and 10 cups of coffee sort of day. I'm not a scheduled writer -- I just get on a mission."

And students and audiences in the North have benefited from the sense of mission Brown has developed.

He began work as a teacher in Arctic Bay four years ago and soon had a play troupe up and running.

"My first year in Arctic Bay, I was teaching drama and there was a suicide -- a Grade 10 student," he says. "So, we got a community wellness grant for $10,000 and put on a play about suicide awareness."

Titled "This House Has Many Rooms," the play was the subject of a CBC Northbeat documentary.

Soon the theatre troupe Kicking Caribou was firmly rooted in Arctic Bay and still is, despite its founder having moved on to Fort Simpson.

Another topic Kicking Caribou touched upon was the sniffing of propane -- denial not being part of this playwright's vocabulary.

Brown moved to Fort Simpson this year and is teaching dram at Thomas Simpson high school.

Last week, his first Simpson play, "House on the Hill," was performed at the school. It's Halloween theme was well received.

"It was a good experience for the kids," he says of his Deh Cho debut. "The first show they were bang on and nailed it down. Then, they were asked to do it again Monday night. In the downtime in between, they slipped."

"And, that's the magic of live theatre ... I was so impressed with the talents of these kids."

All in all, Brown says he believes drama is the way to go.

"It's an excellent vehicle for all kinds of learning," he says. "Not the least of these is literacy."

Brown is planning a production for Addictions Awareness Week later this month.