The therapeutic work in facilitating ensemble and play building in therapeutic theatre

A conversation among drama therapists regarding leadership, safety and responsibility in therapeutic theatre process

Cecilia Dintino

The process of building a play in therapeutic theatre calls for careful attention to the cohesion of the ensemble. Besides exploring various themes and devising a play, the interpersonal dynamics, psychological safety, and open communication must be tended to.

In most productions some sort of rupture, triggered either within our outside of the ensemble group, will eventually disrupt the flow and continuity of the process. This rupture often occurs as we are nearing the product construction. The temptation to push the issues aside in the service of the product is high. Time is limited, much needs to be done and everyone’s nerves are frayed. However, in therapeutic theatre the working through of these ruptures and maintaining a cohesive ensemble is essential to the growth and transformation of the client (the ensemble).

Our group is currently working through some rifts and violations that threatened the group’s sense of safety and security. Interestingly, when we asked the group members how they felt about the inherent danger in theatre production, they were mixed in their opinions. Some actually expressed that things shouldn’t always be so safe – as that may impede growth and discovery.

The issue parallels our play building process and one of our themes in the play. Disability and relationship is often fraught with the dynamic tension between safety and risk. How do we let our vulnerable loved ones free in a world in which there is inherent danger and pain? If we over protect are we preventing our loved ones from finding his/herself?

Is Mommy Jail a refuge or a prison?

This question is one that therapeutic theatre will always have to grapple with. Are we exposing our clients to the madness and cruelty of the world at large? Or are we giving our clients the experience of confronting oneself in the world of others?

And what does it mean to take care of each other in this process?

Ultimately, the ensemble is the drama therapists’ responsibility. Is it a breech in ethics if a member experiences pain, trauma and stress? Or is it part of the work? And what would a therapeutic theatre process be if no strife were encountered?

In DvT theory encounter is a primary premise. And every encounter brings with it diversity, challenge and turbulence. The goal in DvT is NOT to assure only safe, comforting, mirroring encounters. Instead we work to increase tolerance and playability within these turbulent discomfiting experiences. As therapists we do not strive to be perfect, modulating and reassuring therapists, rather we are transparent with our brokenness and our biases.

The thing is, in DvT and in therapeutic theatre, our goal is to remain present, engaged and available amongst the strife.

Instead of running for cover, we hold hands in the fire. And sing.