Luke Abbott: a tribute
8th October 2021
This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the death of Dorothy Heathcote. Dorothy was a giant of the drama-for-learning community, a genius who pioneered a new way of teaching which was and still is revolutionary. We all of us, who use her methods, stand in her shadow. And it is a long shadow, one that can, unintentionally, obscure the part that others have played in developing Dorothy’s work, both before and since her death. Chief among those, regarding her most seminal work, Mantle of the Expert, is Luke Abbott.
Luke studied for his MA under Dorothy Heathcote in 1980. His was the first cohort specialising in Mantle of the Expert and he was so inspired he made it his mission to promote and disseminate the approach wherever he went for the rest of his career. A role not just important but essential for the development and success of the work. Without Luke there is little doubt Mantle of the Expert would have faded from memory, a difficult and arcane idea that had a brief flurry of interest around the publication of Heathcote and Bolton’s book, ‘Drama for Learning’ in 1995, but would otherwise be thought of as little more than a strategy on Jonathan Neelands’ list.
Luke is more than a guardian or a guide, he is himself a pioneer – a ranger who started by following the path but has since, through his own genius, uncovered and mapped undiscovered terrain, land that even Dorothy never found. Watching Luke work, knowing as much as I do about the approach, and having spent countless hundreds of hours watching him teach, I am still blown away by his imagination, by his skills with the tools of drama, by his artistry. Luke is a once in a generation teacher, himself a giant, not one that overwhelms or looks to rule and dominate, but a generous giant, one who only wants others to share in the understanding he has acquired over decades of dedicated and sometimes lonely work.
Not a prolific writer, there are few of his words for others to study in years to come. And there are few bits of video. No BBC crew followed him round recording his work, documenting it for the YouTube generation. More is the pity, because Luke is at his best when he’s in a classroom, creating art out of nothing. Moments, built up through careful precision, step-by-step, in collaboration with the young people. Work that often takes the breath away, leaving you stunned – theatre from thin air.
This might sound like eulogy, but it’s not, Luke is a legend in his own time and this weekend of all weekends I for one would like that to be remembered.