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.
Tim Taylor

Comments (5)

Thanks Tim… A fitting tribute to a master teacher. Many of us in NZ will remember Luke’s keynote and workshops at the 2009 ‘Weaving our Stories’ conference. Inspiring!

Luke Abbott is, of course, one of THE guiding lights of 21st Century Learning.

If Dorothy was the ” Woman Who Started It All”,
Luke Abbott is the ” Man Who Started It All ” and continues to start it all every day for a new generation .

His is no “behind the screen” presence, fake like a wizard of Oz, but out there every day in real life, LIVING & BREATHING the work, as did Dorothy ( Heathcote!) , which is why he is one of this world’s greatest inspirations to those of us working on the path – a blazing star whose work is direct from THE SOURCE, an original in a sea of conformity and imitation.

How clearly can it be said?

Luke Abbott is the greatest living exponent of Mantle of the Expert, PAR EXCELLENCE, NON-PAREIL !

Of course, he is far more than Mantle of the Expert: a singer, musician, archer, writer, father, gardener, raconteur of great wit and humour, listener, public speaker and tennis player.

Overall though – and this is where many of his greatest advocates come in – the children of many nations who have had the joy of working with Luke consistently clamour for his return time and time again.

There is no higher praise .

Duncan Bathgate

I couldn’t agree more!
When you work with Luke you are utterly exported to the world he is able to create in the drama.
The intellectual challenge he throws down in every interaction is incredible. I am so honoured to have worked with him. If only everyone could get the chance.

Here here! I totally agree Tim. Watching Luke work to begin with is like watching a magician as he somehow conjures the children – or is it the story? or the work? or the thinking? or just everything? – around him. Then, with Tim’s interpretation and support, along with a large dose of having tried mantle for yourself, it slowly becomes clear just how intricate and yet broad Luke’s knowledge of both drama, education and mantle are. The mist becomes clearer and every session is left with a sometimes overwhelming yet inspirational set of several more questions as well as things to try out in ones own practice.
One year, Luke literally gave us all an interesting key as we left. They had all been collected in various places over Luke’s career and were to be used as a way in for our next mantle attempt. The metaphor was not lost on me.
Thanks Luke, for everything.

Your words here are very comforting in that as I work away as a stone mason-I can hold fast to the courage and tenacity you yourself went through to become a master-mantleer. The coming weekend with all those from the past will be a sort of reckoning for the short sited drama establishment on the rise of the system which for me in my room dwarfs the others.

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