1 Why Drama? Tapping into the Power of Play and Storytelling

A participatory theatre approach workshop may seem unusual for a health sciences classroom, but we have seen its potential to create transformative learning experiences. It has the power to transgress the traditional boundaries between stage and audience in order to generate a deep level of engagement from everyone involved in the learning experience.

In the video below, team member Dr. Joe Norris speaks to the power of this type of work. Joe is an arts-based researcher who has over 30 years of experience in participatory theatre. While this video was created for this project, Joe has given similar talks at the beginning of workshops around the world. It may be useful to show this video at the beginning of your workshop or class in order to help learners understand why we are using drama to invite them into this type of transformational work.

Written Transcript of Why Drama? Tapping into the Power and Play of Storytelling.

So why a drama workshop?

Frankly, it is one of the better ways to explore and understand the human condition. It relies on the basic and natural forms of learning, namely, play and storytelling.

We think in many ways, some explain things, like an expository essay, some express things, like stories, dramas and other art forms. Both have enormous value but unfortunately our education system has privileged telling over showing. This workshop utilizes the enormous power of drama.

But this is not that new. In fact, we play daily as we try, or dare I say, experiment with new things such as preparing a meal, redecorating, deciding what to wear and how to interact at an upcoming tense meeting. When we were young, play was our natural way of learning. Think of lion cubs or any newborn animal. By tussling, they learn motor control and social interactions.

As humans, we have extended this to role play. Children continually make up dramas. “I’ll be sick and you be the doctor. Or, you be the teacher and the rest of us will be students.” Through such dramas we learn how to interact socially; the magic of imaginative ‘what if’ in many situations. We come by play honestly and naturally.

AND… we haven’t stopped doing it. Richard Courtney claims that we are all playwrights, yes, playwrights. All of us write many plays a day. However, unlike young children who eagerly participate in public role plays, as adults we tend to make them solitary and private as we relive and pre-live life’s situations in our minds. For example, we may relive an embarrassing moment thinking about how we wished we had done things differently. If I said it this way that could have happened and if I did that way, maybe this. In doing so, we wrote a play.

And we could pre-live a job interview creating our answers to hypothetical questions. Pre-living could be as simple as replotting our way to work based upon traffic and weather. We playwright far more than we think we do. It is a common daily activity, so why don’t we use it more often?

This workshop enables us to return to the power of public play to help us understand various aspects of implicit biases so that we can take our new insight from the pre-living of possibilities to applying them to our future experiences. We use a few stories to serve as starting points to begin the conversation…


Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book