How Acting “As If” Can Make a Dramatic Difference

Kelly Tan, I have a dream. Variety-Stock from DeviantArt, FreeImages, and personal stock.

Editorial, Drama Therapy Review – Issue 2.2

By Nisha Sajnani, PhD, RDT-BCT- Principal Editor

Drama Therapy Review is the peer-reviewed journal for the North American Drama Therapy Association. Dramascope will publish the editorial for each new issue to keep our readers abreast of research in the field. We hope this inspires you to read the full journal which you can access for free as a member of the NADTA. For more information on how to subscribe, please click here. Please note that references for this editorial may be found in the issue.

Dramatic reality is the sine qua non of drama therapy. It is, as Susana Pendzik (2006) reminds us, the ‘essential category of experience’ in every approach that involves dramatic means to therapeutic ends. She explains,

Dramatic reality is imagination manifested. It is an as if made real, an island of imagination that becomes apparent in the midst of actual life. Dramatic reality involves a departure from ordinary life into a world that is both actual and hypothetical: It is the establishment of a world within the world… Dramatic reality exists between reality and fantasy: it partakes of both and belongs to neither.
(2006: 5, original emphasis)

Acting as if, derived from the ideas of pioneering psychologist William James (1890) and actor and theatre director Konstantin Stanislavski (1936), has been demonstrated to invite complexity, shift perception, and change behaviour (Ackerman et al. 2010; Carney et al. 2010, 2015; Hung and Labroo 2011; Langer 2009; Laird 2007). While they each use different terms (e.g. surplus reality, aesthetic space, fantastic reality, playspace, etc.), contributors to this issue extend this research and add to our body of knowledge in that they assess and affirm the value of dramatic reality across the lifespan.

We begin with Renée Pitre, Christine Mayor and David Read Johnson who propose that participation in brief sessions of Developmental Transformations (DvT), a highly interactive form of improvisational pretend play, can reduce stress amongst school aged children. They discuss short form DvT in relation to popular stress reduction techniques and provide a case study illustrating this method with one child seen within the context of the ALIVE program in New Haven.

Dan Wiener introduces Proxy scenes that are designed by therapists for adults and which involve the client participating in a close simulation of their real-life situation as a means of removing constraints to desired behaviours. Here, an immersion in dramatic reality offers participants a chance ‘to try out non-habitual and unfamiliar role choices (for individuals) as well as unfamiliar patterns of interaction between clients (for both individuals and client relationship systems)’ (2016: 185). He offers an instructive case example that elucidates the variables that therapists may calibrate in order to achieve successful Proxy scenes.

Myriam Savage follows with a narrative study in which she asked four adopted adolescent women to create masks and make a 30-second personal public service announcement. She combined elements of Pam Dunne’s Narradrama (2009) with an i-Pad application to create a digital space in which these youth could participate in pretend play and speak about their experiences. Savage’s work creates bridges between physical, virtual and dramatic reality, and offers us an example of how current technologies may be used to create new platforms for drama therapy.

Inspired by the research of Thalia Goldstein (2011), Barrett Scroggs, Sally Bailey and Bronwyn Fees present a study in which they examine the relationship between a creative drama course and empathy among emerging adults. They found that participation in a fifteen week creative drama course increased perspective taking amongst 30 undergraduate participants.

Rebecca Versaci follows with a theoretical article in which she uses the language of drama as a framing device for the psychological process of attachment between caregiver and child. She argues that viewing this critical initial relationship as a ‘theatre of attachment’ brings into focus the importance of aesthetic distance, role and intersubjective exchange which, in turn, offers dramatherapists and participants avenues for exploration.

Alisha Henson and Marilyn Fitzpatrick also elevate the importance of attuning to clients’ attachment styles in therapy and, like Wiener and Versaci, offer a rationale for titrating the level of distance created through the use of drama therapy techniques. In their study, they assessed the attachment styles of five mothers with children diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and observed their preferences in a drama therapy support group. Consistent with the findings of drama therapist Judith Glass (2006), they found that those with insecure attachment styles were more likely to prefer over-distanced techniques.

Rachel Lee Soon offers a postcolonial reading of drama therapy while also situating drama therapy within an Indigenous Hawaiian context. She calls attention to place, embodiment and relationship as complementary spaces between Indigenous ways of knowing and drama therapy practice. Her work is an excellent example of a critical aesthetic paradigm present in our field (Sajnani 2016).

Drew Bird and Katie Tozer inhabit dramatic reality as an approach to discovery. They draw on a/r/tography as an arts-based methodological approach to ‘explore the researchers teaching practice on a UK-based M.A. drama therapy program in order to clarify, understand, and develop a teaching pedagogy to enhance and improve teaching and learning’ (2016: 274). As Bird and Tozer explain, a/r/tography is suitable approach because it invites an investigation of the tensions between roles such as the role of drama therapist and drama therapy educator. Their findings, presented as seven renderings (themes) arising from dramatic improvisation, re-connected them with hidden values and reinforce artistic practice in research and teaching.

We conclude this issue with Patrick Tomczyk’s review of Clive Holmwood’s Drama Education and Dramatherapy: Exploring the Space between Disciplines published by Routledge (2014). Like Bird and Tozer, Holmwood explores the relationships between the role of drama therapist and educator across contexts.

Finally, this issue is special because the abstracts for each article have been translated into Spanish and French. Thank you to Marie-Emilie Louis from Belgium/Montreal and Fabiola Valdivia from Chile/Cambridge for their assistance with this effort. We hope that this expands access to a growing body of research into the health benefits of dramatic reality.

Nisha Sajnani, PhD, RDT-BCT is an Associate Professor; Interim Director, Global Interdisciplinary Studies; Coordinator, Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Drama Therapy MA program; Advisor, Expressive Therapies PhD program, and fellow of the Institute of Arts and Health at Lesley University. Dr. Sajnani is also on faculty with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma where she provides leadership on the role of the arts in global mental health and at New York University where she teaches an introductory course on arts based research. Nisha is the editor of Drama Therapy Review. 

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