Applied drama refers to performance embedded into educational and therapeutic contexts and is of growing relevance as alternative and inclusive approaches to education and health are sought by providers.
Drama therapy, including role play, is increasingly employed as an alternative to drug based therapy; and drama workshops and performances are highly effective in delivering education across all levels, from primary school to post graduate curricula, and often draws on embodied empathy to enhance understanding of human experience as well as encouraging critical analysis of complex social conditions. In this way, applied drama can be culturally and personally empowering for diverse communities, and offers a collaborative and tailored approach for addressing specific and relevant issues.
UHI Drama is fully committed to the ethical principles and social impact of applied performance and to this end has been working closely with Highland Hospice on a project relating to palliative care. This entailed the performance of Homeward Bound, a play charting the experience of Seth and Lesley Goodburn after Seth’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, leading up to Seth’s passing. The play was written by Lesley Goodburn and Brian Daniels and is intended to influence the next generation of policy makers and clinical staff, ensuring that medical procedures are patient focussed, despite ongoing pressure on NHS resources.
Development of the play was embedded into a module on our BA (Hons) Drama and Performance, and was followed by performances facilitated by Siobhan Neylon, an expert in palliative based at Highland Hospice in Inverness. An audience of medical and nursing students was invited, and the play was stopped at critical points to allow Siobhan to explore Seth’s experience through dialogue with the audience; this was with a focus on driving best practice and emphasising the crucial importance of prioritising the individual at the heart of clinical procedures, even when staff are working in extremely stressful circumstances. The performance was so effective in communicating this message through drawing in audience empathy, that it was performed again at an NHS conference in palliative care, which took place in Inverness during March 2019.
The project has attracted attention from educators, public health professionals, as well as performance practitioners and has provided a springboard for a bigger project involving knowledge exchange between these sectors. To this end, Dr Lesley Mickel, programme leader for UHI Drama, is applying to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for a research network grant to support a series of seminars involving Highland Hospice, Hospice UK, palliative care support groups and performance practitioners, among others, to develop a project investigating that ethical responsibilities of developing performance from sensitive documentary evidence, how that evidence may be developed effectively in terms of performance and other outputs, and how these outputs may be best deployed in educational contexts.