The Gaiety School of Acting is honoured to have the opportunity to work on this Erasmus+ project, alongside Age Action and our European partners. Below is a chapter from the E-Book, with the entire publication to be found here.

4.2 The Performing Arts and Drama Approaches to Training

4.2.1 Creative drama

It was the ancient Greeks who first coined the term ‘drama’. Its meaning today remains very similar to their use of the verbs ‘to do’ or ‘to act’  and from drama, theatre evolved.

Augusto Boal, in his introduction to Theatre of the Oppressed, asks the question ‘should art educate, inform, organise, influence, incite to action or should it simply be an object of pleasure? (1985: xiiii). The former offers the possibility of addressing elder abuse by involving people in creative drama to improve their quality of life and to combat ageism in all its forms.

‘Creative drama’ is an approach specifically developed for educational and awareness raising purposes. It is an improvisational, non-performance driven and process oriented form of drama. Learner-participants are guided by a facilitator to imagine, enact and reflect on experiences that may be real or hypothetical scenarios designed to raise specific issues in a space where thoughtful engagement with difficult subjects can occur.

Creative drama is the preferred term for dramatic experiences that are designed for the development of cognitive, affective, aesthetic, and moral thinking of the participants. Methods of creative drama which address social and cultural issues are varied in their approach. Creative drama is holistic in nature and combines internal reflection and external representation. The common core of basic activities is always improvised. The process leads to an acceptance of self, an awareness of personal resources, and an awareness of the internal and external influences on living (Freeman, 2003).  For this reason creative drama has been used as a means of addressing the mental, physical, and emotional development of varying cultures. In practice, individuals and groups set out to resolve problems and seek solutions through the medium of exploration and expression.

Creative drama has grown in recent years and become the keystone of the work of numerous charities, NGOs and theatre companies across Europe.  Programmes using this approach provide bespoke toolkits and advanced training, tailored with care to individual situations in order to access the cultural traditions and understanding of a project’s audience to clearly and sensitively address areas of conflict for communities or age groups (Amollo, 2002)

As outlined above, creative drama is an exploratory tool used with other multi-disciplinary methods to understand, promote and achieve social change. Creative drama, in its development, has expanded to meet the needs and demands of our ever-changing demographic environment.  Sociodrama is now a well-developed and increasingly important tool for increasing social awareness and bringing about positive behavioural change.

4.2.2 Sociodrama

Sociodrama is based on the work of Dr Jacob Levy Moreno (1889-1974), who is also known for his creation of psychodrama, a method of group psychotherapy which focuses on the individual and their inner thoughts to help achieve understanding and change.


Maurine Eckloff in her article Using Sociodrama to Improve Communication and Understanding (2006),  refers to Moreno’s understanding of sociodrama in his book,  Who shall survive? (1953):

While psychodrama focuses on the internal interactions of one man, sociodrama focuses on individuals in the process of interaction. Moreno defines sociodrama as a deep action method dealing with group relations. (Moreno, 1953: 87)

Moreno also states that in psychodrama the attention of the director is upon the individual and his private problems which are allowed to unfold before the group of learner-participants. Although the group approach is used, psychodrama is learner-centred and is concerned with the personal development of a group of private individuals. By contrast, with sociodrama, the group is the subject. Moreno explains that sociodrama is based on the assumption that the group formed by the audience is already organised by the participants social and cultural roles (Moreno, 1953: 87).

In sociodrama the group corresponds to the individual in psychodrama. Psychodrama deals with personal problems and personal catharsis (Koleva, 2012: 313). Sociodrama approaches social problems in groups and aims to achieve a social catharsis (Moreno, 1953: 88). Sociodrama focuses on spontaneity which operates in the present (Koleva, 2012, p. 313). The group and the individuals within it are propelled toward an adequate response to a new situation or a new response to an old situation (Moreno, 1993: 13). Hence sociodrama is a method by which a group of individuals select and spontaneously enact a specific social situation common to their experience. Each participant assumes and dramatises a variety of roles, usually focusing on problems and conflicts arising in certain interpersonal situations. It is a method for exploring the relationships within and between groups in societies, whether local, national or global. The practitioner learns to analyse such ‘systems’ by setting them out physically using objects or group members as representations, giving voice to these identified roles within the system or culture. Through role exploration (role reversal, doubling, mirroring amongst other provocative tactics), the practitioner helps the group to identify where new responses might be possible and to practice the necessary skills to achieve the desired change. The emphasis is always on understanding how individuals, teams and organisations function (Appendix One provides examples).

The methods used encompass a wide range of techniques:  ‘action methods’ draw on role theory, role training, sociometry and sociodrama. Sociodrama and action methods are profoundly effective and are used worldwide in organisational and professional settings[1].They may be used for many purposes including to:

  • assist communication;
  • negotiation;
  • conflict management and team building;
  • action research and strategic planning;
  • predict outcomes or rehearse implementation;
  • supervise managerial or training problems.

4.3 Sociodrama as a vehicle for change

Sociodrama is intrinsically connected with social issues and social action (Sternberg & Garcia, 2000:. 190). Moreno used the approach as far back as 1921 to mobilise people. He proved its value in various projects as exemplified in the Theatre of Spontaneity and his Impromptu theatre. Theatre of Spontaneity and improvisational acting out-exercises were seen by Moreno as having positive outcomes. Later his method was used with many other dramatic aesthetics in the treatment of people with mental and physical disabilities. (Scheiffele, 2008)

Private and public agencies are increasingly interested in employing the arts to strengthen communities.  Sociodrama provides an opportunity for the dramatic enactment of real life situations or conflicts that often go unresolved (Ridderstrøm, 2015: 8). These issues are multifaceted, and every organisation and situation is  different, therefore sociodramas on any given topic are always custom-designed based on the unique experience. Sociodramas can be used in a variety of ways to explore and resolve a multitude of issues within workplaces including conflict, management/subordinate relationships and gender and race issues.

Bradshaw-Tauvon (2001) reflected on the use of sociodrama for peace building within local, regional and international conferences in the UK, Sweden and Israel. She wrote that these settings provide a marvellous forum to bring together diverse cultures to explore social issues. She also described how sociodrama can be used to nurture genuine encounters between individuals and small groups and to create ways to affect constructive change in and between societies, cultures and countries (Kellermann, 2007: 23).

In the book, Sociodrama: Who’s in your shoes?, Patricia Sternberg and Antonia Garcia (2000) outline a number of case studies. One examines the effect of sociodrama on a group of carers establishing an AIDS care unit. Sternberg and Garcia highlight the difference between learning new behaviour and learning new roles. Changing the way you acknowledge and express different emotions can radically alter their effect. Learning new behaviours within roles we already play can create new perspective.

‘For instance, a teacher who practices being more firm with his students regarding deadlines for reports is not learning a new role but learning new behaviours to play an old role with greater satisfaction.’ (Sternberg and Garica, 2000: 200)

In Ireland, the Gaiety School of Acting developed and implemented two programmes using sociodrama to address social issues: BREATHE[2] and IN THEIR SHOES. The BREATHE programme is a professional response to rising suicide rates among younger people. BREATHE focuses on changing attitudes and improving links between teachers, parents and teenagers. It opens up the potential for communication on a more personal level and breaks down feelings of isolation within oneself, within a school setting and increases a sense of integration within the broader community. IN THEIR SHOES is an anti-bullying drama-based programme which aims to foster an understanding of how active learning strategies can improve the classroom atmosphere.

Numerous studies highlight the impact of involvement in the arts on individuals and communities alike. Edward Fiske (1999) in Champions of Change: the impact of the arts on learning pointed to significant improvements in learning ability drawn from his extensive study. It is universally acknowledged that classroom learning is effective only for a proportion of students, by using the arts as a learning tool, changing the learning environment can open the possibility of effective learning to many more students. Furthermore, in the Princeton University study How the Arts impact community,  Joshua Guetzkow (2002) measures the cognitive and psychological impact of participation in the arts on the individual and found it offers an increased “sense of individual”, self-esteem “and a sense of belonging or attachment to community” (Guetzkow , 2002:.3). He correlates his findings with the beneficial effects of the arts in the social and cultural context indicating an increased “sense of collective identity” (2002, :3).

4.4 Types of sociodrama practices

There are three main types of sociodrama:

  • Crisis;
  • Political;
  • Diversity.

Peter Felix Kellerman describes crisis sociodrama as dealing with “collective trauma and group responsive to catastrophic events of national significance”, (2007: 64) such as riots, natural disasters and wars. Whereas diversity sociodrama deals, “with conflicts based on stereotypes, prejudice, racism, intolerance, stigmatisation or negative bias against people because of their diversity” (2007: 104). Political sociodrama is seen as being, “closely related to political theatre” (Kellerman , 2007. 84).  A number of approaches are used including image theatre, forum theatre, rainbow of desire and Boal’s (1972,1992), Theatre of the Oppressed.

Forum theatre is a form of interactive theatre developed by the late Brazilian theatre director, Augusto Boal, as part of his Theatre of the Oppressed. The focus is on shared experiences that stimulates debate, communication and understanding of different perspectives in word and motion[3]. Forum theatre empowers the audience to actively explore different options for dealing with shared problems and motivates them to make positive changes in their own lives (Taite, 2010). The audience is shown a short play in which a central character (protagonist) encounters an oppression or obstacle led by an oppressor (antagonist), which s/he is unable to overcome.

4.5 Tackling elder abuse and promoting change through creative drama

4.5.1 Tackling elder abuse – a multifaceted concept

Elder abuse is a complex, multifaceted concept.  The discussion so far highlights what Biggs (2014) refers to as three different narratives or discourses  – elder abuse conceived as located within interpersonal relationships, elder abuse as a result of ageism at an organisational/societal level and elder abuse due to the failure of the state to protect the individual’s human rights.  In developing a programme to promote change, ways of opening up interconnecting pathways between these narratives are considered.

At the interpersonal relationship level, adopting a generational intelligence approach by building empathy generates positive interactions, permitting individuals to get beyond their own priorities and the social barriers surrounding age. At the organisational level, aspects of the culture of an institution can lead to the failure to provide appropriate care to older people.  These include ageist attitudes, loss of personal identity and the positioning of the older person within the context of factors that include status, rights and duties. Elder abuse addressed within the context of human rights is rarely recognised at the level of interpersonal relationships, but more as a macro level obligation. Hence little work has been done on promoting such rights at the micro level.

Elder abuse and the protection of human rights are of serious concern across the spectrum of care settings. This has been highlighted by Theurer et al (2015) in a study of activities in residential care settings, where residents report frustration around their lack of influence and independence, and paternalistic communication styles among staff. Biggs et al (1995) point to how abuse in institutional settings needs to be dealt with separately as it is associated with certain characteristics. For instance, these include differences in perception as to the role of the institution, for staff it is a workplace but for residents it is their home. However residents must lead their private lives outside of their domestic environment, in a public setting. The institution, whilst a public place, can be cut off from the outside world. With the pressures of work, individual and broader institutional structures dominate, and where tasks or workload become more important than residents’ rights and requirements, “mistreatment is always waiting in the wings”. (Biggs et al. 1995: 78)

4.5.2 Applying sociodrama to training

As has been previously established, sociodrama has the ability to be an intergenerational learning strategy that combines a case study approach with traditional role-play methodology to raise and address a variety of issues to directly tackle elder abuse. Enhancing empathy and raising awareness of human rights will be one of the main objectives. This unique customized approach to training can also facilitate personal growth, raise consciousness, and initiate attitudinal and behavioural changes in the learner-participants. The benefits of applying these dramatic techniques in educational and training settings are wide reaching.  Not only can they provide an action-oriented forum for resolving conflicts among people with different views and life experiences, reflecting the concept of generational intelligence, they are also effective in:

  • clarifying personal and organisational values;
  • developing social skills;
  • problem solving;
  • diagnosing organisational issues;
  • nurturing understanding;
  • enhancing empathy;
  • developing and rehearsing action plans;
  • improving personal effectiveness and awareness.

The sociodrama system incorporates four components:

  1. It is based on the realities and issues being actively experienced by the participants or organisation.
  2. The investigation proceeds through improvisational theatre allowing workshop participants to explore the issues and share through their own experiences, thus, encouraging group empowerment and ownership over the workshop. In sociodramas, participants take on the role of another. This allows them to develop an empathic understanding of that person’s point of view or feelings, allowing them the opportunity to walk in another’s shoes.
  3. Within the scene work a dialogue is opened up between the characters and the audience (other participants), allowing interpersonal relationships to develop and other perspectives to be explored in which numerous alternative communication strategies can be discovered. Discussion should assist participants and audience to realise motivations, purposes, behaviour, implications and possibilities for the prevention of problem situations.
  4. Through the intentionally designed experiential workshops the educational, behavioural and psychological objectives can be promoted, encouraging the participants to reflect on how to achieve the implementation of the goals identified within their own organisation.

Creative drama is a group interaction process used to assist all types of people in meeting specified goals. The method draws upon a person’s ability to learn with their whole body and mind It is a kinaesthetic, emotional and cognitive educational methodology (Hawkins, 2014). The concepts underpinning intervention workshops can address elder abuse prevention on a number of levels – empowerment through education, activation of human rights through awareness and by building empathy to challenge ageism can aid the broader development of elder abuse policy.

4.6 Conclusion

Throughout this chapter we have investigated the potential of sociodrama underpinned by a generational intelligence framework as an effective vehicle for development and delivery of elder abuse  prevention and intervention strategies.  Generational intelligences strives to enable others walk in an older person’s shoes. Sociodrama supports the learning of new behaviours within roles we already play, by reflecting on why we act in a certain way. The proposed model has the potential to revolutionise current approaches to elder abuse prevention models by challenging ageist stereotyping, enhancing relationships and increasing understanding between caregivers and care recipients.

[1] Sociodrama and Creative Action Network (SCAN)