Drama Therapy and the Therapeutic Benefits of Theater

Featured in the August, 2014 Scleroderma, Vasculitis & Myositis eNewsletter

John DeSilvestri

Scleroderma, Vasculitis & Myositis Center of Excellence


All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
-William Shakespeare

Living with chronic diseases such as scleroderma, myositis and vasculitis can have a drastic effect on mood. Depression, anxiety, fear, and anger are all normal reactions to the grief caused by sudden change in our personal health and in the way we live. It can be difficult to express feelings of loss and physical change in a way of living that was once taken for granted.

Creative expression as a form of healing is a process that has been wildly accepted by many cultures throughout history. One of way to help patients in expressing themselves can be through drama therapy.

The roots of drama therapy go back as far as the ancient Greeks where theatre was a part of life, a festival for the gods and an opportunity to express social impacts of life and change. Aspects of the theatre have routinely come into play in therapy including role play, an exercise in which two people express themselves by pretending to be, for example, a mother and daughter discussing the day. Drama therapy goes a step further and allows the patient to express their emotions by not just pretending to be the characters, but actually “being” the characters and separating themselves from the actions using their emotions to drive the action.

At a glance, drama therapy is similar to the Stanislavski method of acting (a method still used by actors today) wherein actors draw believable performances by focusing on an emotional memory which they then focus internally to portray a character’s emotions on stage. This method was founded by Constantin Stanislavski, a russian actor, director and administrator of The Moscow Art Theater in the early 1900s.

Forms of Drama Therapy

There are several forms of drama therapy,

  • Role play: which explores life experiences through the creation of an imaginary environment
  • Using objects and materials: using the objects as a cypher to deal with problematic feelings or experiences.
  • Wearing masks and costumes: Depicts the self and self-image
  • Using play, storytelling, and fable: Searches for problems within events of issues
  • Creating “ritual”: Acknowledging changes of life milestones
  • Acting in progressive stages: Developing new ways to connect to one’s self and to others.

Allowing yourself to fall into a role through drama therapy as an actor can help you leave your inhibitions behind. By giving yourself “permission,” to feel your emotions, you find new ways of approaching problems, coming up with solutions, and sharing with the group without fear of consequences.

The most important thing in drama therapy is to remember to never give up. Put yourself out there and learn from your experiences.

For more information on drama therapy and how it may benefit you, a simple search for drama therapy programs in your area will set you in the right direction. *Remember to consult your physician before attempting any form of therapy on your own.

In the meantime, see more theater! Allow yourself to get lost in the stories and the actions taking place on the stage. Bring a friend and follow up your experience with a discussion with what you just saw. And as always, be sure to support your local arts organizations.

Sources

About John DeSilvestri
John is an Actor, Producer, and Voice-Over Artist. He has appeared on stage in New York and regionally, as well as television and video games.  He holds a BA in dramatic arts from the University of Hartford and an MBA from Fordham University School of Business. John is also an alumnus of the O’Neill National Theater Institute and studied in Russia at the Moscow Art Theatre.  In addition to performing, John also assisted the producers for the Tony Award Winning “Peter and the Starcatcher” on Broadway and has co-produced with off-Broadway companies such as FullStop Collective and The Active Theater.

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