Applied Drama

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Applied Drama and Theatre (ADT) is an umbrella term for the use of drama practice in a specific social context.[1] The term "Interactive Theatre" is also sometimes used.[2]

Applied theatre is often done in non-theatrical spaces with participants who may or may not consider themselves to be artists. It is a term that has been contested, gaining popularity in towards the end of the 20th century to describe theatre practice that takes place in educational, community and/ or therapeutic settings. James Thompson states that “Applied theatre is a participatory theatre created by people who would not usually make theatre. It is, I would hope, a practice by, with and for the excluded and marginalised.” [3] Judith Ackyroyd confirms the inclusion of both of these elements in ADT: “I have identified two features which I believe to be central to our understanding of applied theatre; an intention to generate change (of awareness, attitude, behaviour, etc), and the participation of the audience.”[4]There are a variety of forms and practices to be considered under the umbrella of Applied Drama and Theatre.

Fields Associated with Applied Drama[edit]

Drama Therapy[edit]

Main article: Drama therapy

Drama therapy is the use of Applied Drama techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health.[5] Drama therapy is rooted in a clinical practice, facilitated by licensed clinicians, that stimulates language, cognitive development and builds resilience.[6]

The modern use of dramatic process and theatre as a therapeutic intervention began with Jacob L. Moreno's development of Psychodrama. The field has expanded to allow many forms of theatrical interventions as therapy including role-play, theatre games, group-dynamic games, mime, puppetry, and other improvisational techniques. Often, "drama therapy" is utilized to help a client:

  • Solve a problem
  • Achieve a catharsis
  • Delve into truths about self
  • Understand the meaning of personally resonant images
  • Explore and transcend unhealthy personal patterns of behavior and interpersonal interaction

Theatre for Development[edit]

Theatre for Development uses Applied Drama techniques to facilitate development in less developed countries.[7] Amanda Hashagen argues that “Theatre for Development is a tool that has the potential to address development issues at their roots in a way that the legal framework cannot.”[8] She also explains Abah’s scale of Theatre for Development practices. He states that TfD practices range from the exogenous- “projects designed outside a specific community that it aims to affect” to the endogenous- “projects to affect a particular community are initiated within the community itself”.[8] For more information on Theatre for Development, see the Main Wiki Article.

Playback Theatre[edit]

Main article: Playback Theatre

Playback Theatre is an original form of improvisational theatre in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot. Playback Theatre is used in a broad range of settings, in addition to theatres and community centres where performances take place for the general public.

Playback theatre is used in schools, private sector organizations, nonprofit organizations, prisons, hospice centres, day treatment centres, at conferences of all kinds, and colleges and universities. Playback theatre has also been used in transitional justice, human rights, refugees and immigrants, disaster recovery, climate change, birthdays and weddings, and conferences. Playback theatre is also used in conjunction with Narrative Therapy[9]

Drama in Education[edit]

Drama in Education can allow students to develop an understanding of themselves and others.[10] Kathleen Galllagher has argued that 'What is clear is that there is no correct pedagogical model on offer for drama education. [...] In theatre pedagogy, we not only endow experience with meaning, but we are - as players - invited to make manifest our own subjectivities in the world evoked through character and play, a world laden with metaphor and nuance, a world where relationship to other and self-spectatorship are in dynamic and unrelenting interaction.'[11]

Theatre in Education[edit]

Theatre in education (TIE) originated in Britain in the mid-1960s. Monica Prendergast and Juliana Saxton cite TIE as “one of the two historic roots of applied theatre practice.”[12] TIE typically includes a theatre company performing in an educational setting (i.e. a school) for youth, including interactive and performative moments. Practitioner Lynn Hoare defines TIE as a combination of “theatrical elements with interactive moments in which audience participants (in or out of role) work with actor-teachers towards an educational or social goal, using the tools of theatre in service of this goal.”[13] Scholar Helen Nicholson notes that this work “involves professional theatre-makers working with young people in all kinds of educational settings and learning environments, including schools, hospitals, theaters, museums and heritage sites.”[14] TIE seeks to educate young people in issues that are relevant to both them and their communities, for example: bullying, dating violence, environmental preservation, and peer conflict resolution. “TIE companies have always been among the most socially conscious of theatre groups, consistently choosing to examine issues they believe to be of direct relevance to the lives of the children with whom they work.”[15]

“Theatre for Dialogue” (TFD) is a more recent term describing a model that was created specifically for the University of Texas at Austin campus community which pulls methods and theory from a variety of applied theatre practices such as TO and TIE. In her thesis, Spring Snyder explains that “Theatre For Dialogue performances explore the intersection between theatre and education as a way to investigate, reflect, provoke dialogue and serve as a rehearsal for reality without asking participants to share their own personal experiences. Although some of the Theatre For Dialogue’s roots originate from an adapted form of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed’s forum structure, it is Theatre in Education (TIE) that more closely aligns with TFD.”[16]

Drama in Health Education[edit]

Drama in healthcare is drama created in medical contexts, often with the intention of rehabilitation.[17] This form of Applied Theatre focuses on using theatre to educate, engage, and stimulate healing in medical professionals, patients, and the general public. Often theatre is used to educate people on important health issues such as healthy eating, grief and loss, exercise, and sexual assault prevention. Examples include using actors to role-play health ailments in order to train healthcare professionals, performing plays focused on primary prevention, and facilitating drama workshops for patients.[12]

Prison Theatre[edit]

In prison theatre, practitioners engage offenders in correctional facilities, jails, prisons, and detention centers in exploring drama work often with the objective of education or rehabilitation. In his book, Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre, Jonathan Shailor writes, “In the prison setting, as elsewhere, the needs that theatre addresses are those of self-expression and identity, freedom (of the imagination), creativity, and community.”[18] These practices can take various forms: a traditional theatre process of rehearsing and performing a play, a devising process where participants create and perform new work, and process-focused interactive drama workshops.

Examples include Wabash Valley Correctional Facility’s Shakespeare in Shackles where maximum security prisoners learn about and perform William Shakespeare’s plays. The University of Texas’ Center for Women and Gender Studies’ Performing Justice Project works with incarcerated female youth to learn about gender and racial justice while devising a play based on the youth’s unique experiences. Blagg!, a workshop created by the Theatre in Prisons and Probation Center, “combine[s] dynamic drama techniques to explore issues of anger management and offending behaviour [...] by examin[ing] consequences of actions, the victim’s perspective, effects on family members, and strategies for avoiding trouble in the future.”[19]

Theatre of the Oppressed[edit]

Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) consists of Brazilian theorist Augusto Boal’s set of theatrical techniques used as a means of promoting social and political change through dialogue in community-based settings. Underneath the umbrella of TO lies the forms: Forum Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Legislative Theatre and Image Theatre.

In Rainbow of Desire, Boal describes TO as: "A system of physical exercises, aesthetic games, image techniques and special improvisations whose goal is to safeguard, develop and reshape this human vocation, by turning the practice of theatre into an effective tool for the comprehension of social and personal problems and search for their solutions."[20]

Forum Theatre, the most commonly used TO method in the United States, invites community members to become active participants in the process of creating theatrical performances. It also invites the audience members to step on stage in order to play out the scenes as a way to gather a variety of possible “solutions” for oppressive situations.

Museum Theatre[21][edit]

Main article: Museum theatre

According to the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL) website, museum theatre is, “the use of theatre and theatrical technique to cultivate emotional connections, provoke action, and add public value to the museum experience.”[22] Museum theatre is typically more common in cultural institutions like heritage sites, history museums, and science and industry museums.[23]

The content that is typically activated through museum theatre techniques includes:

  • Interpretation (information presented to visitor in a variety of forms)
  • Live Interpretation (real-time interaction with visitors)
  • First Person Interpretation (interpreter in role as a character)
  • Third Person Interpretation (interpreter interacting with visitors as self, not in character)
  • First/Third Person Interpretation (interpreter stepping in and out of character)
  • Role Play (putting visitors into character with interpreter)
  • Storytelling (oldest form of communication)
  • Creative Drama (interpreter using activities such as improvisation, role play, image work, etc.)[24]

Product and Process[edit]

Most mainstream theatre is focused on the interpretation of a pre-written script, whereas applied drama is often more focused on the creation and interpretation of a theatre piece which may or may not be formally scripted.[12]

There is a debate, therefore about the relationship between instrumentalism and artistry across the field of applied drama.[14][25] Some practitioners choose to focus primarily on improvisation, whereas others might introduce a range of artistic practices, such as developing scripted plays with prisoners[26] and devised performance with children with disabilities,[27] or apply indigenous forms of cultural performance to address issues of local concern or create social cohesion, sometimes combined with new forms of digital communication.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Phillip (February 2006). "Applied Theatre/Drama: an e-debate in 2004". Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance j 11 (1): 90–95. doi:10.1080/13569780500437960. 
  2. ^ Sant, Toni (22 Sep 2006). "The Applied and Interactive Theatre Guide". 
  3. ^ Thompson, James (2008). Applied Theatre: Bewilderment and Beyond. Oxford: Peter Lang. p. 15. 
  4. ^ Ackroyd, Judith (2000). "Applied Theatre: Problems and Possibilities". Applied Theatre Researcher. 
  5. ^ Loretta Gallo-Lopez, Lawrence C. C. Rubin -Play-Based Interventions for Children and Adolescents on the ... 2012- Page 100 "An overview of drama therapy is provided next, along with support for the use of drama therapy with children with ASd."
  6. ^ Weber, Anna Marie; Haen, Craig (2005). Clinical Applications of Drama Therapy in Child and Adolescent Treatment. New York: Brunner-Routledge. 
  7. ^ Kabaso, Sydney (2013). Theater for Development in Zambia. Zambia: Kabsy Digital Media. p. 20. 
  8. ^ a b Hashagen, Amanda. "Approaches to Gender Equity in Uganda." Thesis. U of Manchester, 2005. Web. 11 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Playback theatre and narrative therapy: introducing a new model". Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved 7 Oct 2014. Article elaborates how such integration (Playback theatre with Narrative Therapy) can be achieved and how it can contribute to the process of narrative re-authoring. 
  10. ^ "The Arts, The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8" (PDF). Ontario Ministry of Education and Training. p. 5. Retrieved 20 May 2013. Education in the arts is essential to students’ intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth. 
  11. ^ See 'Emergent Conceptions in Theatre Pedagogy and Production' in How Theatre Education: Convergences and Counterpoints 3-13, pp. 12-13.
  12. ^ a b c Monica Prendergast & Juliana Saxton, ed. (2009). Applied Theatre, International Case Studies and Challenges for Practice. Briston, UK: Intellect Publishers. p. 7. 
  13. ^ Hoare, Lynn. Considering the Form: Fundamental Factors in Devising for Theatre-In-Education. Thesis. University of Texas at Austin. n.p. Print.
  14. ^ a b Nicholson, Helen, Applied Drama: The Gift of Theatre, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, UK, 2005
  15. ^ Jackson, Anthony, and Chris Vine. Learning through Theatre: The Changing Face of Theatre in Education. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
  16. ^ Snyder, Spring. A Transformative Classroom Experience: Exploring Campus Mental Health through Theatre For Dialogue. Thesis. University of Texas at Austin. 2015. Print.
  17. ^ Warren, Bernie. Using the Creative Arts in Therapy and Healthcare: A Practical Introduction. Routledge. p. 115. 
  18. ^ Taylor, Julia, et al. Performing new lives: prison theatre. Ed. Jonathan Shailor. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010.
  19. ^ Thompson, James (1999). Drama Workshops for Anger Management and Offending Behaviour. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 
  20. ^ Boal, Augusto (1995). The Rainbow of Desire. London: Routledge. 
  21. ^ Genshaft, Lindsay Michelle. "Bridging theatre and visual art: the role of an applied theatre practitioner in a fine art museum." (2011).
  22. ^ "IMTAL | IMTAL". Retrieved 2015-06-14. 
  23. ^ Catherine Hughes. Museum theatre: Communicating with visitors through drama. Heinemann Drama, 1998.
  24. ^ "IMTAL | IMTAL". Retrieved 2015-06-14. 
  25. ^ Thompson, James. Performance affects: applied theatre and the end of effect Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010
  26. ^ retrieved 30 November 2011
  27. ^ 30 November 2011
  28. ^ See, for example,, retrieved 30 November 2011

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