Using Art and Theatre in Training

Recently I designed and led some arts-based training workshops, which made particular use of drama.

These workshops focused on the issues of communication and customer care. The design philosophy centred around “exploration”, drawing on the often long experience of staff. The workshops made use of theatre performance to help participants do two things:

1. reflect on communication and customer care in the client organisation

2. reflect on their own behaviour, attitude, skills and experience.

Scenes of theatre were drawn from a combination of research in the company, and research into other organisations.

The scenes were challenging and presented different (good and bad) aspects of communication in a customer care context. For example, three different scenes set in a restaurant examined different styles of customer care. Another scene looked at teamwork between staff and its impact on customer care.

In addition to this, the workshops used visual art to allow participants to discuss and debate blockers and enablers of communication and customer care.

Over the many workshops, a vast amount of practical ideas and suggestions were gathered for input into improvement programmes. Also participants were encouraged to write and verbalise personal commitments to change and improvement.

The theatre held up a mirror of both personal and organisational behaviour, facilitating reflection and the projection of personal change and improvement. It also brought in, through its content, new and challenging content from outside of the company.

Theatre as a mirror is a genuinely powerful way to help learners to see themselves more clearly. “Alienation” occurs in  a positive sense, when, through the drama in front of them, the audience suddenly find themselves taking up a standpoint of self-observation. They see issues in the characters on stage and then find these issues also relate to themselves.

A dissociation or alienation from self takes place and the learner finds themself in the role, for a few moments, of both observer and observed. New insight arises, literally in-sight, a seeing into the reflection of self provided by the mirror of the drama. If this insight is profound, it can be “heartfelt”, strong enough to create a “critical incident”, leading to a reflection that is strong enough to influence current and future behaviour. This kind of arts-based training therefore becomes a method of personal and organisation change management.

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