Dr Theatre: Theatre Arts and the Healing Arts: Possibilities and Stuff to Discuss


Convener(s): Steven Whinnery—typed up by Kath Burlinson 

Participants: Steve, Kath, Deirdre McLaughlin, Imogen Crouch-Hyde, Anna Porubcansky, Ewan Downie, John Hale, Louise Platt, Lewis Barfoot, Nicholas McInerny, El Heidingsfeld, Persephone, Theresa Feliz, Peta Cooke, Jamie Wood, Chris Grady

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Steven began by asking each of us in the circle at that time to introduce ourselves and say what we do/why we were drawn to discuss the question.  The following is a brief and incomplete summary of what people said:

Steven—a mask maker and actor—mentioned the stigma attached to living on benefits and having clinical depression, also currently studying bodywork including Feldenkrais

Kath—theatre maker/director/actor, interested in creating transformative theatre, what makes a sacred event, also not separating, but integrating

Louise—drama therapist, professional connection between theatre and healing arts

John—works in psychology as well as theatre

Deidre—doing Ph.D at central, also actor/director/massage therapist.  Wants to know how to circumvent the stigma around ‘healing arts’/therapy

Imogen—graduating soon from Central and concerned with survival issues—how to make a career in theatre bring in an income

Lewis—experience of healing in different contexts—medical and artistic—wanting to share the humanity

Percy—involved in creating piece about extinction/ecological needs/climate and relationship with non-human world

Theresa—nutritional and massage therapist—childhood experience on commune in India

Anna—involved in theatre in Poland and mentioned a festival called the ‘Brave’ festival (?)

Ewan—has worked for some years with Song of the Goat—interested in how much we can give to each other and audience—how do we make transformative theatre? And how do we build an audience for that?

Jamie—involved in devising and collaborative processes—can be a healing place if it comes from the right place—interested in how to take that knowledge into working with people who are not actors


Nick McInerny joined group, asked about duty of care when getting into deeper territory psychologically/emotionally, both for participants and audience. Some discussion of the dangers of not having appropriate structures in place, led on to recognition that conventional theatre too does not acknowledge the intimacy (false or genuine) that occurs within casts and the mourning/grieving/loss when a show ends.  Led to discussion of ritual as structure and perhaps greater need for this.

Interesing how discussion that began as quite heart-based then went into a territory more governed by fear.  Nick asked what strategies people have for creating safe spaces etc.  Kath said starting with the self is all she can do—monitoring her own psychophysical responses moment by moment and being vigilant about doing her work before working with others.  Lewis spoke about the importance of honouring what is, and spoke of her experience both with herself and Ewan and their audience in a piece they made recently about torture.  The idea of really taking responsibility for your own experience was mentioned.  There was a discussion about what honesty is, or whether Ewan’s phrase ‘honest commitment’ is a better way to approach the issue.  John and Nick spoke of the complexities of the issue, our capacity for self-deception, many stories and plays being based on different kinds of delusion. 

We also spoke about audiences, how to encourage our audiences into the ‘right’ space—a space of openness.  Kath also spoke about how you never know who is in the audience or how they will respond—transformative for one may be dull as ditchwater for another.  A reminder came about the importance of play and playfulness.  Nick spoke about immersive theatre and Ewan mentioned an example involving a performer night after night inviting an audience member to come and dance with him—no-one ever did until one night when a man stood up and shouted that he was from Iran, where dancing is illegal, and YES, he was going to come up and dance.


We agreed to create an e-group to continue these discussions and to perhaps provide a supportive context for those of us interested in these questions.  Kath agreed to do the admin! 


To Louise Platt: fellow dramatherapist would like to meet you!