For NYU Steinhardt’s Drama Therapy program, mental health care and community care are one and the same.
“We know that art is a way to create connection, and to communicate across experiences,” shared Maria Hodermarska, clinical associate professor of drama therapy. “For me, that connection is health, because health is about being in community with others, and the wellness that derives from it.”
In the spirit of community care, Drama Therapy joined forces with the program in Educational Theatre and other members of the Music and Performing Arts Professions Department at NYU Steinhardt to host a community event, “Parade,” in the spring of 2023. Alongside Hodermarska, clinical professor of educational theatre Nancy Smithner and Music and Performing Arts Administration Program Administrator Ellen Smittle collaborated to make the event a reality.
The event, held in Washington Square Park in the midst of NYU’s Greenwich Village campus, sought to connect with NYU Steinhardt’s city neighbors and celebrate community in action in a space of common ground.
At the event, people of all ages participated in musical performances, experimenting with free harmonicas and drumming enthusiastically on buckets. Volunteers distributed food and water, and passersby practiced mindfulness exercises while peeling oranges. There were storytelling workshops, theatrical performances, and art stations, including a banner that participants could add to throughout the festivities.
The Parade event served as a cheerful space for connection, and as a valuable learning experience for students in NYU Steinhardt’s Drama Therapy and Educational Theatre programs.
“Gone are the days of the opaque psychoanalyst sitting behind a patient on a couch taking notes,” Hodermarska said. “Our students need to understand that mental health care can happen on the street and on the street corner, and that being a provider of that mental health care requires the capacity to create brave spaces where everyone involved can be vulnerable and take risks.”
This pedagogical approach reflects broader trends in the field of drama therapy, which is increasingly interested in expanding a sense of freedom, self determination, and self efficacy for providers and participants alike.
“There’s a huge movement to situate the patient as a collaborator and co-creator in the world of drama therapy,” Hodermarska shared. “We are interested in the Disability Justice movement and the Mad Pride movement, and how the arts and drama therapy can become a liberatory practice in a very medicalized and carceral model of care.”
“The Parade event was a day filled with tiny moments of connection,” Hodermarska said. “My dream is that the future of mental health care can look more like a parade, a festival of personhood and community that centers difference and celebrates it."