Some notes on drama and related areas in group work
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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
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
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
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 available
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
“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
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.