Making Poem Houses as a Drama Therapy Method of Self-Care

By Mimi Savage, RDT, PhD

I discovered poem houses, an art form created by Brigid Collins (2012) during a doctoral studies seminar on leadership. I was researching the topic of supervision when I came across a paper that described how poem houses were useful for understanding the challenges of leadership in business (Grisoni & Collins, 2012). The method of mixing or assembling found objects and poetry into a box – a collage process of layering and juxtaposing images, objects, and text – was intriguing because it suggested that an “uncovering” (p. 35) of personal information could take place, and it encouraged personal reflection via construction of an object. Grisoni and Collins (2012), who are not creative art therapists, noted that “intermediality” (p. 35) exists in this assemblage art form – a co-existence and arrangement of mixed media in one object or artifact that evolves into a new art form. The intermediality borne out of the construction of poem houses resonates with my personal aesthetics, and my academic and therapeutic orientation as a drama therapist.

As a longtime student of arts and humanities, I have often appreciated the way ordinary found objects are constructed into new forms by artists creating assemblage, such as Picasso (Guitar, 1914; Bull’s Head, 1943). Rauschenberg’s composite three-dimensional  “combines” (Leoni-Figini, 2006) such as Canyon (1959), featured seemingly disparate found objects on canvas inviting broad viewer interpretation. Combines were provocative and most likely influenced by the works of Duchamp, who presented “readymades” (Howarth, 2000), such as Fountain (1917), and Box in a Valise (1966). These pieces were meant to question the making and maker of art and elicit additional layers of meaning from  the viewer.

Artists such as these open up spaces to question meaning making and truth in creative practices, and have influenced my interest in art forms that are useful to drama therapy research and drama therapy methods. Hoffman (2005) defines postmodern psychology as an approach that questions the ability to know ultimate truth and that seeks multiple methodologies in the attempt to understand experience and meaning. This is what I think the aforementioned artists attempted with their art and is what can be accomplished by using interventions like poem houses in both therapy and clinician self-care.

Poem houses also intersect with my interest in narrative research methods of generating data and deconstructing them in order to represent new forms of story for understanding meaning. The subjectively arranged three-dimensional assembly of objects and words held and perceived in a small box – a diorama of sorts, or a miniature black box theatre – complete with a storied set reminds me of the three-dimensional narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) of exploring place, time, and relationship. All of those uniquely perceived elements exist inside and outside the box. Yes, narrative inquiry, not necessarily linked to narrative therapy, is a subjectively informed process with no absolute truths.

Like Duchamp’s Box in a Valise, visual stories compacted into the framed space of a box such as the poem house invite the viewer to think narratively. It also permits an interdisciplinary way to seek truth as it echoes or represents personal and social lenses. Thus, the poem house invites us to ask, “What is the story I perceive in this container?” “What is the meaning I gather from the inside and outside of the container as it pertains to the many dimensions of the maker, the environment, the time, and my own history?”

The storied box invites me to understand personal experience (mine and another’s), which is at the crux of narrative research. The contextualized story can be experienced and viewed in the landscape of a poem house and through the use of metaphor and symbolic imagery – a pivotal tool of narrative therapeutic approaches and narradrama (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Dewey, 1934).

Narradrama and Poem Houses

Narradrama combines the concepts of narrative therapy with drama therapy and the creative arts (Dunne, 2006). It borrows from psychology, sociology, anthropology, experimental theatre, and many forms of expressive arts in order to help a person become aware of internalized narratives.

Narradrama uses the following therapeutic steps: Continue reading

Reflections from a “Long Table” Performance on Drama Therapy in the Treatment of Trauma

Long Table Performance. photo credit: Kholoud Nasser

By Nisha Sajnani, PhD, RDT-BCT

At our recent NADTA conference (2014, Yosemite National Park, CA), David Read Johnson and I convened a long table performance with several contributing authors to our recently released book: Trauma-Informed Drama Therapy: Transforming Clinics, Classrooms, and Communities.

The long table format is one that I had learned from Lois Weaver who introduced this performance structure at a Split Britches retrospective at La Mama Theatre, New York City, in 2012. In a traditional panel, selected experts sit at the front of the room, usually behind a table, and face the audience as they present on their area of expertise for 15-20 minutes. This is usually followed by some Q&A facilitated by a discussant or panel chairperson.

In contrast, the long table involves a group of people who agree to be in conversation with each other about a topic. Like the theatre in the round, a table is set in the middle of the room with enough chairs for the initial group and 3 or 4 empty chairs for audience members who wish to join the conversation. The participants sit around the table. On the table are large pieces of paper which are used as table cloth, and a few markers.

The long table performance begins with a ritual involving a reading of a few guidelines that serve as an entrance structure and invocation:

This is a performance of a dinner party conversation

Anyone seated at the table is a guest performer

Anything is on the menu

Talk is the only course

No hostess will assist you

It is a democracy

To participate simply take an empty seat at the table

If the table is full you can request a seat

If you leave the table you can come back again

Feel free to write your comments on the tablecloth

There can be silence

There might be awkwardness

There could always be laughter

There is an end but no conclusion

This was the second time that the long table appeared at one of our gatherings. Maria Hodermarska (Master Teacher, NYU Drama Therapy Program) and I drew on this format at the 2012 NADTA Conference in New Haven, CT, where we hosted a conversation on the performance of trauma in the body, in relationships, and in our environment.

Having experienced this format twice in relation to the theme of trauma, I have come to see the aesthetic of the long table as being uniquely well-suited to this topic for a number of reasons:

  1. It presents meaning making as a relational process rather than a product.
  2. It privileges ongoing relationships and conversation.
  3. It reflects the need to accommodate and integrate new and potentially unexpected experiences and perspectives.
  4. The intentional framing of the conversation as a performance heightens the experience of constructing meaning together and encourages participation.

After all, who comes to dinner to openly talk about trauma? (I mean aside from trauma therapists having dinner together!) Who does so expecting relationships to be strengthened? Rather, we are often taught to keep family secrets hidden, to hide our ‘dirty laundry’, and to suppress the leakage of unpreferred aspects of ourselves and our lives from ever being seen by another. Of course, this can lead to feelings of rejection, isolation, and despair.

Continue reading


Answer all these questions correctly to be entered into a prize drawing during the 2014 NADTA conference at Yosemite. You must be present at the Community Business meeting to win.  (Saturday 11/1 at 1:15pm.)


  1. What was the first official year of the original National Association for Drama Therapy?
  2. Name the first President of the original National Association for Drama Therapy
  3. What is the email address for your regional representative?
  4. How many credentials does Eastern Region Representative, AngelaWiley, have?
  5. When is National Creative Arts Therapies Week for 2015?
  6. How can you find contact information for other NADTA members in your state?
  7. What Committee does Karimah Dillard, Chair?
  8. How many publications written by Pam Dunne are on the list of “Drama Therapy Books” – the first option on the bibliography page of the NADTA website?
  9. What was the 2013 Conference theme in French?
  10. What is the theme for the 2015 NADTA Conference (In English)?
  11. Please list your name (for the prize drawing)
  12. There will be an extra prize drawing for people who helped their friends. Please list anyone who helped you find the answers. (They must be present to win.)

To submit your responses:  Send your answers in an email to or bring this completed form to the conference registration table. Answers must be received by 8:30am PST on Saturday 11/1/14. Correct answers will be announced at the Community Business Meeting at 1:15pm on Saturday 11/1. A prize drawing will be held at that time from among people who responded correctly and legibly to questions 1-11, plus an additional prize drawing for people who helped their friends. You must be present at the Community Business meeting to win.

Interview with Conference Performer/Attendee -Diana Elizabeth Jordan, MFA.

I interviewed Diana Elizabeth Jordan, MFA. Who will be performing “Watch Your Head A Solo Performance”. On Oct 31st, 2014.

Can you tell me about yourself and your professional goals?

I like to consider myself I a creative artist who loves to wear many hats. I am an actor, artist educator, drama specialist and inspirational speaker. I am in the process of starting my own production company The Rainbow Butterfly Café (creating “Artistic Treats” to nourish your mind, heart and soul) I am also in the Alternative Training Program at The Drama Therapy Institute of Los Angeles.  I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be an actress and I grew up determined not to let having cerebral palsy (which mildly affects my speech and gait)  stop me from pursuing my goals. I have been cast in over 30 plays, film, television and new media projects. I am a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity and I was the first actress with a disability to obtain a M.F.A. in acting from California State University Long Beach.

I’ve also known from a young age, that I wanted to explore ways that theater arts could be used as an educational and therapeutic tool. As an artist educator and drama specialist I have been developing and implementing performing arts programs for youth and adults with developmental disabilities for the past 20 years. I have never seen being an artist educator, drama specialist or my studying to become a registered drama therapist as alternatives to being an actress or “fall back careers” They are simply extensions of who I am as an actress.  I embraced a long time ago that my career journey would be unique. My professional goals are to continue to balance the many “hats’ I like to wear.  Seeking opportunities to act as well as exploring ways in which I can work as an artist educator, drama specialist and hopefully one day a Registered Drama Therapist.

Have you ever been to a drama therapy conference before?

This will be my first drama therapy conference, and I am really excited and looking forward to going.

What drew you to become involved in drama therapy?

I have been interested in drama therapy since high school. It has taken me awhile to get to this point where I am studying at the Drama Therapy Institute. I do feel however I’ve been witness to the very positive impact and therapeutic value  that participating in performing arts programming has had on the youth and adults with developmental disabilities  I have worked with throughout my career. I currently refer to myself as a Drama Specialist because of my background and experience and look forward to the day when I can add RDT as one the “hats” I wear.

Can you tell me at little about your performance and how you came to creating it?

There are times in my life as an actor I like to call Magic Moments and finding the play, Watch Your Head by Lynda Rodriguez ( was a Magic Moment for me as an artist. I’ve been wanting to do a one person show for quite sometime. One evening in early August of 2013, while looking for some scenes for my acting students on a website for ten minute plays, I came across Watch Your Head. A few seconds into reading the play, I knew I had to do it and produce it. I, in very quick succession,  wrote the playwright, Lynda Rodriquez, who generously gave me her blessing and asked  director Paul Kampf, to direct me on this journey.

I have cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects my speech and gait. For many years, I have thought about and been encouraged and by friends and colleagues to write and tell my “own” story about what it is like to live with a disability. I however have always loved telling other people’s stories.  That is why I became an actress.  I love taking a character off the page, inhabiting “her”, bringing “her” to life and sharing her story. I feel as if Lynda Rodriguez has written this play about an actress’s journey of re-self- discovery following a brain hemorrhage just for me. Allowing me to share my joys and challenges of living with my disability through her words and the voice of the character “Actress”. Performing in Watch Your Head is emotionally challenging, exhilarating and I love it.

What are you most looking forward to experiencing at the conference?

I think I am literally looking forward to everything, just going to Yosemite, seeing it’s beauty. I’m jazzed about the sessions I signed up for, and the opportunities I’ll have to meet new people and network. I am so excited and nervous (in a very positive way) about doing my show. It really is an honor to have had my proposal selected

Anything else you can think of that people should know about you?

Just for fun, I’ll share 5 random facts about me.

  • Favorite Tea- Vanilla Chai
  • My Father, Grandfather and Great Grand Father is/were all ministers
  • First Acting Role- An Angel in a play I don’t remember
  • Most Amazing moment of my life- Seeing my older nephew James Wesley 4 hours after he was born’
  • Favorite Role of all time- Aunt Di to James Wesley 7 and Jordan Gregory 3 ½

Seriously though I am looking forward to the end of October and meeting lots of wonderful people at the conference and hopefully after my performance.

Watch Your Head

Featuring Diana Elizabeth Jordan

Friday October 31st. 9:30- 11:00


Interview by Cynthia Holloway, Psy.D.

News about Hospitality & Entertainment for the 35th Annual NADTA Conference

By Mimi Savage and Beth Ricketson

We have some enjoyable and we hope memorable things in store for you during our conference in Yosemite this year. For instance, between presentations you may want to participate in an interactive art piece in the lobby or sip soothing teas.

The President’s Reception will take place at the Tenaya Pavilion under a majestic rooftop lit with chandeliers,flanked by the evergreen forest and complete with a cozy outdoor fire. We will be warmed by our presence, the event heaters, and the California drought that offers warmer evenings into the winter. That being said, please bring warm sweaters or jackets in case it gets nippy, because we are in the high Sierras.

During the Ball, we will be in full Swing with music, fine food, and libations featuring local wineries and breweries. Please dress to dance! Before that, you may even hear a Native flute playing ata special moment under the stars.

Please join us Thursday evening, October 30th for the Newcomer/Welcome Dinner that is open to everyone.  We meet at Embers Restaurant at the Tenaya where our guest and expert from the Yosemite Conservancy, will present information about Yosemite, celebrating 150 years as the nation’s first state park. The lodge is providing us with the lovely venue so we can order a variety of meals from our own menu while we meetup for a great conference beginning!

We look forward to the 35th annual NADTA conference and the Hospitality & Entertainment Committees will have information about what you can do at the Lodge, in Yosemite, and the nearby town of Oakhurst while at the conference. If you have any questions, please email us at

Warmest Regards and See You in October!

Beth Ricketson and Mimi Savage

Hospitality & Entertainment Chairs