Each month we bring you a nonviolence training workshop
based on the experience of the Nonviolent Action Training
project and INNATE.
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Some notes on drama and related areas
in group work
Drama is an important learning tool which should
be a part of most facilitators’ tool kits. But terms
like 'role play' are sometimes used very loosely. This may
be fair enough in many situations but the result can be confusion
if the same term means different things to different people
– so clarification is often needed. This piece seeks
to make a few definitions and explore a few options. 'Role
play' and 'drama' have obviously a generic meaning though
people can apply them in a very specific way. On the other
hand 'Dramatherapy' and 'Psychodrama', which are similar but
different, are terms which are much more specific and there
are professional training associations associated with them.
Some of the following are definitions by practitioners of
particular approaches. This piece is not intended as anything
like a comprehensive review of dramatic methods.
As always, a facilitator needs to know their
own limits, undergo training and accreditation as necessary
before using particular techniques, and be prepared to support
people who expose their vulnerability or emotion. But using
sociodrama or role play to explore political, social and community
issues which are unlikely to have much personal trauma associated
with them should be safe enough for most reasonably experienced
facilitators. Drama is powerful and emotions, such as tears,
can be exhibited in which case the facilitator can a) acknowledge
the person and the emotion without making it too big an issue
in the group, b) check whether the person concerned is happy
to continue, where possible checking quietly beside them c)
take a break if need be and provide immediate support to the
person concerned, and d) check up with them at the end of
the session and arrange any necessary support.
While usually thought of in terms of a stage-play, drama in
group work is a generic term for enacting a particular situation
or series of situations to try to learn from it. The word
itself is derived from the Greek for 'action'. The use of
drama for personal development has obviously been recognised
for a very long time in terms of self confidence and assertiveness.
Dramatherapy offers a special kind of drama where the process
rather than the product is the therapeutic vehicle. By providing
a safe space for experiment and risk-taking, dramatherapy
can initiate the possibility of change, of different ways
of being, on the journey to wholeness.
Dramatherapists can be found working in, for example, psychiatric
hospitals, hospitals and training centres for mentally handicapped
children and adults, educational establishments, residential
homes and community organisations.
Psychodrama is a form of group psychotherapy where an individual
enacts his/her problems or conflicts instead of talking about
them, in a kind of spontaneous sketch, with the support and
participation of the group and under the direction of a trained
psychotherapist. Insight is gained personally through the
action. Essentially personal conflicts are explored. Psychodrama
was originally developed by Jacob Moreno.
Its purpose is outlined by Martin Jelfs (from "Manual
for Action") as follows; "to analyse situations
and tactics; to understand people and their roles; to anticipate
new situations; to reveal emotive aspects of action; to develop
interpersonal skills; to develop strategy and test theory."
Role play can generally be thought of as drama in a form of
group work looking at the roles people play. More specifically,
in nonviolent action training, role play would be used principally
as a means of examining the best (= most nonviolent, and least
likely to cause violence) response to particular situations.
'Role play' may mean other things in other situations.
Sociodrama involves dramatic enactment of social and cultural
issues. The scenes enacted reflect the group's concern about
belonging to a particular category, e.g. class, sex, religion,
culture, race, age etc., and the effect that this has on their
life experience. Essentially sociodrama explores group issues.
'Community drama', for example, was used as a term of convenience
by James King and there was a course of that name taught by
him at the University of Ulster (UU). Included in that course
under the banner of community drama were: 'Theatre of the
oppressed' (including Forum and Image Theatre); Playback Theatre;
Instant Theatre; Reminiscence Theatre; Aspects of Educational
Drama; Dramatherapy Methods; Drama Games; and Street Theatre.
Two Theatre and Community modules and an Educational Drama
module are now included in the UU drama degree, covering a
variety of modes of practice and facilitation skills. The
programme team has also been involved in a UK national project
on group work in drama, Assessing Group Practice with resources
There are numerous different techniques in storytelling and
using it to explore issues, some of these overlap with drama
(e.g. ‘hotseating’ where the person sitting in
the hot seat adopts a persona/role and answers questions speaking
as the person in that role).
- 'Freezing' action and asides; the drama is
halted ('frozen') while the actors answer questions such as
'How are you feeling?'. 'What are you feeling that you're
not saying?', 'What would you like to say that you can't say?'
- Doubling. Another person stands behind a participant
in the drama (maybe putting a hand on their shoulder) and
speaks for them.
- Changing the people playing particular roles
(helps to avoid having people 'stuck' in role) and also -
- Role reversal (two people change roles). Extremely
useful in helping someone see both sides of a situation.
- Moving the drama on: a drama dealing with
a particular protagonist can move from a work or school situation
to the home, from there to a social setting such as a pub
(dramatically - not literally!), etc., to explore different
aspects of the situation. This brings in different people
that the protagonist is in contact with and their reactions
to the issues.
“I don’t like/do role play”
says the workshop participant or participants. What do you
as a facilitator do when you want to use drama to explore
the issues? Pushing people beyond their comfort zone can,
according to the situation and the individuals concerned,
be an occasion for resentment and trouble. There are a number
of choices including:
a) Gently encouraging them and enabling them to participate
in a ‘safe’ way, e.g. by allowing them to choose
their role and checking they are all right. Emphasise that
it is about learning, not about anyone’s skills as an
actor. Or put off using drama immediately but give support
in a break and/or see if there is appropriate support available
from others in the group that the person concerned would trust.
b) Not involving everyone in the workshop directly in the
drama, thereby allowing individuals to opt out but participate
as an observer/reporter – a role which is likely to
be required anyway.
c) Doing the drama/role play as a ‘one to one’
so that the reluctant person is in the least threatening position
possible of only sharing in a drama with one other person.
If this is still too difficult for someone in a one-to-one,
the pair can simply discuss the issues and the type of things
that might happen.
d) It is a general rule in non-therapeutic drama that, when
taking situations for enactment from real situations, actors
do not take a role they hold in real life (e.g. someone who
was/is bullied in school would not play that role in a drama).
This needs to be remembered in the context of a reluctant
participant, particularly in case the drama is too close to
someone’s heart. But, if someone’s situation is
taken, they can have the opportunity to comment afterwards.
e) Avoiding dramatic enactment altogether, at least at the
initial stage, by brainstorming what might happen in a certain
situation or better still as a flow chart (including different
directions the scenario might take). You might then test the
water about dramatising it, or choose to dramatise it or part
of it using those who are willing.
f) Whatever option chosen, it is good practice to check up
after the end of the session with anyone who expressed difficulties
as to how they are feeling. They may gain confidence to try
it the next time but need to feel in control of what they
do. Drawing too much attention to their stand or discomfort
in the group is obviously counterproductive but they do need
individual attention – the extent to which this is possible
depends on the context, time available, and individuals concerned.
…….And remember, drama is
usually a fun way to learn.