The NYU Program in Drama Therapy As Performance Therapeutic Theatre series is a part of the Theatre and Health Lab. We create theatre with real people about their real lives and, together, discover how theatre may promote health and wellbeing.
Definition. Therapeutic theatre is the intentional use of performance to address psychological, physical, and social concerns and promote health and wellbeing. It is one approach used by drama therapists to support goals such as reminiscence, recovery, rehabilitation, and advocacy.
By framing the topics that we explore in this series as performance, we acknowledge the culturally situated and socially constructed quality of lived experience. Our experiences become available to exploration and change when understood and expressed through performance.
We produce two productions a year in partnership with communities (Spring and Fall) and host a public masterclass and performance to highlight innovations in the field in February (Winter Series).
Our research has already begun to shed light on distinguishing features of therapeutic theatre in relation to theatre in general, methodological approaches associated with this practice, aesthetic and ethical considerations, and the positive impact that theatre can have on our health and wellbeing.
The Process. While the process will differ slightly with each project, it typically involves the following: A drama therapist works in partnership with an individual or community in a co-creative process over 12-20 weeks in which they share personal stories, determine collective themes, make aesthetic choices, develop a script, consider audiences, rehearse, perform, and then reconvene to reflect on the process in relation to their personal and collective goals.
Propose a Project. The As Performance lab welcomes proposals for projects that have the potential for
- advancing our understanding of how theatre contributes to health and well-being,
- involve people who would experience therapeutic benefits from bringing their stories to the stage,
- offer students opportunities to learn about therapeutic theatre, and
- are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Proposals are reviewed on an ongoing basis and selected a minimum of two semesters ahead of production. Submit a proposal here.
We are so grateful for the alumni, playwrights, and organizations who partner with us. Through this series, we discover just how theatre changes lives and why, with so many options available to us, we still find meaning in gathering together, often in the dark, to participate in the life of a play.
You can contact the Theatre and Health Lab at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Positively Shameless is a devised ensemble theatre performance that is based on aspects of child sexual abuse that endure into adulthood. It interweaves personal narrative with social commentary to create a playful, dramatic act of resistance and revelation that challenges the shame and silence that often surrounds survivors.
Performed by: Shilpa Waghmare, Sathyam A.P., Sharanya Iyer, and Shabari Rao
Directed by: Maitri Gopalakrishna and Shabari Rao
Location: Provincetown Playhouse at 133 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
Tickets: $15 / $5 students
Preview: Wednesday, April 8, 8:00pm
Opening Night: Thursday, April 9, 8:00pm
Friday, April 10, 8:00pm
Saturday, April 11, 8:00pm
Sunday, April 12, 3:00pm
Post-performance conversations will be held in partnership with Sanctuary for Families, New York's leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.
We have partnered with Music Theatre International and Penn South Program for Seniors to offer a unique production of Fiddler on the Roof Sr. This therapeutic musical theatre production has offered all of us a chance to consider the traditions we want to hold onto and those that need to change as well as the importance of community and belonging in divisive times.
Turbulence is a co-created piece developed by Black and People of Color (BPOC) clinicians, students, and creatives that explores BPOC experiences in clinical settings and the larger world. This performance activism piece actively engages audience members and aims to stoke and foster social action.
2019 Whose House
Three one-act plays devised by members of the second year drama therapy cohort
The Feast of The Famished: A Fairytale in Five Courses
Directed by Adam Stevens
This Is Not An Invitation
DIrected by Jessica Asch
Under the American Flag
Directed by Chantal Georges
2018 Living With...
What is it like to live with HIV in 2018? This is the question explored by Living With…,depicting intergenerational experiences of individuals living with HIV.
The play was written by Joe Salvatore, clinical associate professor of Educational Theatre, in collaboration with four long-term survivors of HIV and three newly diagnosed adults based on months of group therapy sessions. Collective themes that emerged throughout the therapeutic process—including the stigma of diagnosis, advancements in medical treatments, and generational experiences of the AIDS crisis—are represented through vignettes, monologues, and musical numbers.
The project was directed by Nick Brunner, clinical drama therapist and an alumnus of the Drama Therapy program, and includes four original short plays by Salvatore, original music and lyrics by Brent Wakelin, and original monologues created by members of the company.
The therapeutic benefits of this theatre-making and performance process are being examined by the NYU Theatre and Health Lab through a mixed-method research study, forming part of a larger inquiry into drama therapy’s impact on social, psychological, and public health outcomes. Participants complete a survey at the beginning and the end of the process to measure the impact of drama therapy on self-stigma, resilience, and their sense of community; they will also be interviewed about their experiences after the show closes. Listen to the soundtrack here.
2018 Queer As Performance
Not for Resale is a play that explores queer identities, queer communities, and the implications of queerness in socially constructed spaces. It was devised by queer-identifying performers and drama therapists in NYU's As Performance research series and written by actor and playwright Jess Barbagallo and directed by Alexis Powell.
It is a high-spirited, comedic, at times irreverent and other times vulnerable music-filled production that examines queerness as a place of personal and cultural innovation. And, like any place of innovation and experimentation that has strong aesthetics at work, there is the ever-present danger for appropriation and commodification by capitalist, patriarchal systems. With any visibility comes the danger of this commodification and the play wrestles with identities being marketed and examines 'what is being sold.' It suggests that, potentially, queerness may only successfully exist outside of capitalist structures and asks us to consider if it can operate within them.
2018 The Empty Space As Performance
Theatre Director Peter Brook wrote, "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage." As drama therapists we considered Brook's statement in its psychological dimensions. These three One-Act Plays deal with the concept of the empty space as it performs psychologically: intra-personally and interpersonally. How does Hurricane Maria, a massive-scale natural disaster followed by inadequate aide, reflect the tenuous negotiation of Puerto Rican American identity? What is the empty space left by the civil war in Lebanon and the the silencing of memory that followed? And, what is the empty space that remains in the aftermath of interpersonal trauma, the space that has been taken from someone by the actions of another, and how do we attend to the gaps that remain without immediately trying to fill them? The events of the three plays take place 40 years apart from each other. We started in the present, moved back in time to events stemming from the Lebanese civil war that was fought throughout the 1980s, and end back in the US in the 1940s during the Second World War. Through theatre, we seek to make the absent, present.
2017 The Birds
Residents and staff from Hebrew Home at Riverdale worked with drama therapists Barbara Kaynan and Kate DelPizzo, and playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, to explore and adapt Aristophanes’ The Birds. One of the most ancient comedies in the Greek tradition, The Birdsfollows the story of two lost Athenians who find a surprisingly pleasant home amongst a flock of birds. Through language, music, art, and movement, the Hebrew Home community explores what it means for an unlikely bunch to live and work together. The play asks us all to consider how we hold space for both grief and hope while navigating the complexities that accompany creating and settling in a shared, new community.
2017 Recovery Through Performance
UnMasqued tells the story of six women in the Epsilon Delta Tau sorority. The characters in the play challenge themselves and each other and arrive at a greater sense of what it means to be a recovering human being. Through word, dance, and song, the sisters of Epsilon Delta Tau explore themselves and their relationships. The audience witnesses the complexity of recovery—the struggles, joy, and pain of the human experience.
Recovery Through Performance is a project that creates therapeutic performance with people in recovery from eating disorders. Using the Co-Active Therapeutic Theater Model (CoATT Model), Recovery Through Performance’s Dr. Laura Wood is researching how this model can provide effective therapeutic support for on-going recovery after intensive treatment for disordered eating.
Recovery Through Performance was founded in 2014 by Dr. Laura Wood. You can read more about previous productions and participants experiences here.
2017 Power and Privilege as Performance
As drama therapists and researchers we are concerned with thinking through who, what, where, when, and how power and privilege performs in the therapeutic encounter. When power and privilege (in role or within a narrative) enters our treatment rooms and playspaces, does it enter as a defense, desire for intimacy, a “weapon,” a mask, a political/social construction, a traumatic memory, or part of a colonized DNA?
Members of the audience were asked to write down an answer to the prompt, "What do you need?" Answers are here in this word cloud. It's moving that the thing articulated most often was "love."
2016 Behind The Doors: Terror In The Home And The World
By Eric Bernat and the Ensemble
Directed by Heidi Landis
Behind The Doors explores the crossovers of terror in the home and in the world. The script is a work of fiction based on personal lived experience and the world around us. It is called Behind The Doors because there is a silence that comes from the trauma experienced when we encounter such terror.
2016 Follow the Leader
Directed by Jarred Sharar
Dave Mowers, Executive Producer
Students from the Cooke Center for Learning and Development, working with a drama therapist, created a piece of therapeutic theater that examined their experiences living with disabilities and other abilities, and invited the audience to examine power dynamics in and around developmental disability.
2016 Among Them But Not Of Them: Dis/Ability As Performance
Curated by Jessica Shotwell
Directed by Anupriya Meenakshi Banarjee, Angie Nunez, Sarah Rose Olsen, Julie Regula
A series of student-directed short plays that research and examine disability and its impact on relationship.
2015 Rule Breaking
By Alec Silberblatt
Directed by Nick Brunner
Musical Director: Ming Yuan Low
Performances: November 12-15, 2015
A participatory action research/performance project looking at the impact of developmental disability on the caregiver-care receiver relationship.This production is part of the NYU Drama Therapy Program As Performance series. The series is funded by a generous grant from the Billy Rose Foundation, an NYU Steinhardt Arts and Culture Grant, and the NYU Steinhardt 125th Anniversary Fund. Read more about it here.
By Niko Eisen
Directed by Dave Mowers
Performances: April 9-12, 2015
Must/Can't is an investigation of therapeutic theatre through the drug-crazed, grief stricken, manic, depressive, antic brain of a forensic creative arts therapist.
With Alan Pottinger, Sarah Olsen, Shannon Coltrane, Jessica Shotwell, and Frank Senger.
2015 Sex As Performance
A festival of one-act plays curated by producing director Jessica Shotwell
Performances: February 5-8, 2015
Three short plays take aim at the ways sex surfaces in our work as Drama Therapists in the tri-state area.
With Jess Asch, Nick Brunner, Pam Edgar, Liz Edwards, Jason Hasko, Ashley Perryman, Daniel Sherman, Isabel Shanahan, and Rachel Lee Soon.
Transference, Director: Jon DeAngelis, Playwright: Montserrat Mendez
Blurred Lines: Street Harassment as Performance, Directors: Kat Lee and Cameron Wade, Consulting playwright: Nancy Vitale
Tips to Avoid Rape for the Average American Girl, Director: Darci Burch, Playwright: Nancy Vitale
Borderline is a groundbreaking new musical based on the true story of a former Broadway musical theatre actress diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It is also the story of her intrepid therapist daring to step beyond her comfort zone in radically treating her client and in doing so, discovering her own transformation.
Actress Jill Powell and her therapist Dr. Cecilia Dintino invited Professor Robert Landy into 18 hours of intensive workshops. Dr. Landy created a script with songs, set to music by Tony Award-winning orchestrator Michael Starobin. A three-month engagement of therapeutic rehearsals under the direction of NYU faculty member Dave Mowers culminates in four public performances, November 13-16, at the Provincetown Playhouse. Read The New York Timesfeature. And an interview with Robert Landy in At A Glance.
2014 Towards the Fear
This is a play exploring themes of bullying, social combat, and aggression through the performance of verbatim interviews conducted by the company. The show focused on personal experiences of being the aggressor, bystander, or victim in various situations throughout life and how these experiences affect individuals far after the initial event. In addition to investigating interview transcripts, research studies, and current media outlets, the show incorporated original movement pieces, original music, and audio/ visual compilations. Created by: Joe Salvatore and the company.
Company: Kyla Blocker, Darci Burch, Yulissa Hidalgo, Wanning Jen, Arielle Sosland, Nikolai Steklov, Liane Tomasetti, Dennis Yacobucci, and Barbara Harrison (Assistant Director)
2014 Guns As Performance
This is a collection of four original one-act plays that explore our relationship with guns from a number of different vantage points. Three short plays directed by second year Drama Therapy Masters Candidates Nick Brunner, Laura Hix, Erin Hutchinson, and Vjosa Ramadani take aim at the ways gun play surfaces in our work as Drama Therapists. The fourth play, Confessions of a War Dog, a creative memoir written by those for whom guns and service are intimately linked, was presented by US Veterans of the Homefront Theatre directed by Marylou Lauricella.
2013 ESMIN Four Years After
A woman named Esmin died in the psychiatric emergency room of a city hospital, her story evidence of a broken and disconnected system of health care. How did this happen? And how has this event affected both the organization and the individuals that work there? Interviews with staff are the basis for a performance exploring the frailties of a health care system after the death of a patient named Esmin. The play touches upon the challenges of working in a mental health setting, and how trauma affects both patients and staff alike. Through the words of those that work there, it looks at progress as well as the resistance to change when people or systems encounter a traumatic event. Conceived and written by Kate Hurd, Directed by Dave Mowers.
2013 Cancer as Changemaker
A therapeutic theatre project created from the emerging experience of Gaye Doner-Tudanger, who lives with metastatic breast cancer. As a collaborative arts-based research project, the performance included the lived experience of Gaye combined with the stories and narratives of other survivors, some of whom were a part of the ensemble. The building of the performance included personal narrative, embodied perspectives, social-relational experiences and political issues surrounding the experience of living with, and the specter of dying from cancer. Collaboratively conceived, directed and performed by Cecilia Dintino, Gaye Doner-Tudanger, and Gwendolyn Alker, and students of the Program in Drama Therapy: Alexandra Devin Vicich, Dominique Darrell, Prentiss Benjamin, Lisa Gail Schwartz, Sheryl Machlowitz, Rachael Bralow, and Kathryn Marie Clark.
2013 The Fading Body, One-Act Play Series
The Fading Body featured eight 10-minute plays that explored the phenomena of both the body’s decline and transformation. The phrase “the fading body” roots us in the corporeal truths of our work as drama therapists and where we do it. In hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers our clients face the physical ramifications of illness from stroke to addiction to aging or abuse. And of course, the theater is a physical space, and performance is a phenomenon that engages the body. The plays investigated the nexus of Arts-based Research and Therapeutic Theater. Clinical drama therapists participated as artists, and artists explored a therapeutic process of expression. Featuring new plays by Eric Bernat, Cusi Cram, Robert Landy, Refiloe Lepere, Virginia Reed, John-Richard Thompson, Dana Trottier, and Sheri Wilner.
2012 The November Project: Suicide as Performance
This is original play about the interface between the lived experience of suicide and the theater. The November Project was conceived and created by the company itself as an ensemble production to explore this difficult subject. The company is made up of people who have attempted suicide, lost a loved one to suicide, or stayed up all night to prevent a suicide with the goal of getting closer to the lived emotional experience. Together the participants engaged in an improvisational journey combining acting techniques and drama therapy methods, and research to capture something of their collective experience.
A collaboration between Drama Lab NYC and the NYU Program in Drama Therapy. Directed by Cecilia Dintino, with the assistance of Jennifer Wilson.
Cast: Jessica Asch, Prentiss Benjamin, James Capps, Kim DiMartini, Mindy Kuei, Adam Macy, Eddie Neve, Alexis Powell, Liah S. Rozenman, Lisa Gail Schwartz, Frank Senger, Pete Simms, Emilie Ward, Laura White, and Steven Yanovsky.
2012 Mama Always Said, “Don't Play with Fire”: Race as Performance
This performance arose out of a living inquiry into race and racism. Five NYU Drama Therapy students brought their critical sass and serious play to address important questions about identity, community, and social inequity: Is race playable? Can we use our practice of improvisation and performance to take apart and reveal the construct of race? Directed by Nisha Sajnani.
Written and performed by Ashley Kleinman, Lizzie McAdam, Amber Smith, Dana Trottier, Britton Williams
2012 Race As Performance
As individuals, we have been in many conversations about race and they have been all but playable. This piece is one exploration into the ways in which we can engage in critical, thoughtful dialogue without losing our creativity and spontaneity. This piece was originally presented at the Student Forum at the North American Drama Therapy Association 2011 Conference.
2011 You Arrive: Trauma as Performance
You Arrive focused upon issues of trauma. Developed and performed by Dr. Bonnie Harnden, Associate Professor at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.
Concordia professor Bonnie Harnden has created a performance piece entitled You Arrive, which is about being in therapy and facilitating therapy. It follows one woman’s experience in her therapist’s office as she unravels the effects of early trauma and simultaneously illustrates the theories and experience that guide her therapist’s work and interventions.
The clinical case emerges in a dynamic way as four actresses each play a different part of the same woman: her child self, her adolescent self, her false self, and her adult self. These selves tell her story from their own perspective, revealing what happened to them at that stage in life and how they were developmentally paralyzed by parental neglect and abuse. During the piece, these selves become integrated and the woman emerges from the therapy office whole. You Arrive is both an arresting and engaging play as well as an enlightening educational experience for therapists, clients, and anyone that has wondered about therapy.
More information: This piece is an evolving arts-based research project by Bonnie Harnden, a professor at Concordia’s drama therapy program in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This piece emerged from Harnden’s work with traumatized children and their families at the Montreal children’s hospital. It is also based upon her training as a psychoanalyst. Using performance ethnography this research seeks to illuminate viewers on the process of therapy, teaching therapists (and parents and children) how to help clients individuals “arrive home” in their bodies and in their experiences following familial traumatic experiences. It stands in a space of transformation between what we know with our bodies and what we know with are minds.
In this performance, body, theory and mind become integrated, embodied and illuminated. At this intersection of art, theatre and therapy, the process of therapy and the impact of trauma on the body and psyche becomes accessible and alive.
2011 Within: Mental Illness as Performance
Within explores the personalities and feelings of people who often find themselves on the “outside." Withinreflects the goals of Drama Lab NYC: part therapy, part community activism, part entertainment, part healing, part philosophical exploration.
Within was created by Drama Lab NYC. A therapeutic theatre company founded by Cecilia Dintino and Emilie Ward, and made up of individuals with mental illness, drama therapy professionals, drama therapy students and theatre professionals. The theme of Within is the institutionalization of the self after diagnosis with mental illness. The narrator of the play is a young woman who is researching the self and the role of mental illness. Throughout the play, the various roles portrayed represent “half-selves” or “absent selves” searching for connection. A father who is hijacked by aliens, a mother who can’t be heard, a son whose self is split in two, an actress who is masking her truth, a patient who has lost her memory, another who has lost her eyesight, a mental health worker who has lost her capacity to empathize. As the play unfolds, all of the characters encounter something of their lost essence. The conclusion suggesting that our route to self is determined by our capacity to imagine and enroll. Directed by Cecilia Dintino and Emilie Ward.
About Drama Lab
Drama Lab was co-founded by Cecilia Dintino and Emilie Ward, both graduates of the NYU Drama Therapy Program, and both drama therapy professionals. Dr. Dintino is an adjunct instructor within the Drama Therapy Program at NYU and assistant clinical professor of psychology at Columbia University, and Ms. Ward is a supervisor of NYU Drama Therapy interns and Director of Research and Training at ENACT, an Educational Theatre and Drama Therapy organization in Manhattan.
Drama Lab NYC provides individuals with emotional and physical struggles the opportunity to collaborate with theatre professionals and drama therapists to create an original theatrical production.