Rose Thorn’s article was written as an essay for the Playback Theatre Leadership course held in Brazil in 2017. Illustrated by participants’ drawings and comments, the article describes in depth how this group of women and men with learning disabilities became involved in a long-term Playback Theatre project that eventually included performing. Rose is a dramatherapist and a Playback Theatre performer, conductor, and teacher in Wales.
“I played the jelly fish” – Reflections on Playback Theatre as a Method for Enhancing Group Cohesion with Adults with Learning Disabilities
by Rose Thorn
EWAN:I played the jelly fish.
For eighteen months I have been teaching Playback Theatre (PT) to a group of eleven adults with learning disabilities who all attend the Hijinx West Academy We meet on Friday mornings in a small town in south-west Wales. I have been passionate about raising the profile of PT here in Wales with my own company, The Golden Thread which I co-founded in 2012 with five other arts therapists. As a dramatherapist I am aware of the social and emotional benefits of using drama and theatre with people with learning disabilities, including the potential for developing and enhancing:
Communication skills: actively listening to others, self-expression
Body awareness: proprioception, body language
Self-awareness: emotional intelligence, spontaneity and role development
Social skills: group trust, relationships, acknowledging difference (Chesner: 1995 & Crimmens: 2006)
In this reflection I will focus specifically on how this group of adults with learning disabilities have engaged with Playback Theatre. PT is a form of improvised theatre where a member of the audience shares their personal story; a short ‘here and now’ moment or a longer story. The conductor acts as a conduit between the audience and the performers and when the teller shares, the conductor says ‘Let’s watch!’ Then the performers and musician use physical and vocal expressiveness to spontaneously capture the essence of the story. After the enactment the performers acknowledge the teller with a look, symbolically returning the story to the teller. The conductor invites the teller to respond by sharing a personal reflection (sometimes a correction) of the enactment before they return to their chair. Continue reading ““I played the jelly fish” – Reflections on Playback Theatre as a Method for Enhancing Group Cohesion with Adults with Learning Disabilities by Rose Thorn”
This month it’s my turn to contribute a post. With kind permission from the editors, this article is excerpted and adapted from my chapter “Stories in the Moment: Playback Theatre for Building Community and Justice,” published in Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Vol 2, eds. Cohen, Varea and Walker, published by New Village Press in 2011. (I encourage readers to explore this remarkable anthology of writings on theatre that addresses conflict in many parts of the world.)
“Standing Up: Playback Theatre and School Bullying” describes and evaluates the approach pioneered by Hudson River Playback Theatre in upstate New York, now used by other PT companies as well.
Emma—not her real name–is a seventh grader, about 12 years old. She’s small for her age, slender, very smart, very artistic. She’s not part of the “popular” crowd in her class. Emma’s interests are different, she doesn’t make friends easily, she can be a bit sarcastic and prickly. For a long time, she’s been the target of daily, relentless, cruel bullying. She comes to school every day knowing that other kids are going to make fun of her, isolate her, and humiliate her. She feels powerless to stop it. She’s talked to her teachers and her parents. Her parents have talked to the principal. The principal has scolded the bullies. Nothing seems to help. Telling her story in a Playback Theatre performance, she says: “It feels like they’re tearing my heart out.” All she wants is for the other kids to leave her alone. She would also like it if a couple of the other girls would ask her about her artwork.
Emma has five more years of school. She doesn’t know how she’s going to survive.
In Playback Theatre we refer to “the red thread,” the connection that can emerge between spontaneously told stories–not simply a theme, but a kind of dialogue between the stories themselves. We are seeing a red thread emerge in this blog, a conversation about Playback Theatre’s capacities and responsibilities in relation to participation, inclusiveness, and social justice. This new article from Nisha Sajnani and Amanda Wager continues the red thread, looking at a sequence of performances exploring racial justice on an American university campus.
Nisha is the incoming Director of the Drama Therapy program at New York University and the principal editor of Drama Therapy Review. Amanda is an educator, researcher, and an Assistant Professor at Lesley University. See full bios following the article.
Gaps, Complicities, and Connections: Stories from a Movement Towards Racial Justice in Higher Education
by Nisha Sajnani and Amanda Wager
Social movements for racial justice have regained momentum on college campuses across the U.S and Canada over the last three years, including at Lesley University in New England where we have both taught. Eighty-one lists of demands created by student groups call for greater accountability on the part of university administration and faculty to recruit and retain students and faculty of color, develop and use curricular materials that do not reify White, middle-class realities as the norm, allocate money, space, and human resources to acknowledge the health and social impacts of racism and better support the wellbeing of students of color, and to provide continuing education on racism and intersecting oppressions as it affects everyone implicated in university life.[i]