When I was first asked to write an article about my weekly drama classes in St Teresa’s Blackrock, I jumped at the chance to wax lyrical about them. It was my first day back after three months of maternity leave, the adrenalin was rushing and I was full of ideas… little did I know how a little baby can eat up typing time!
There are many aspects of the classes that I could write about but for this article I am going to focus on the benefits of drama in a residential setting.
The Wednesday drama classes in St Teresa’s (a centre for women with learning difficulties) have been running for the past five and a half years. They started out as an opportunity for me to direct the Christmas play and evolved into weekly sessions, culminating in an end-of-year play. Since that beginning we have devised four new pieces of theatre, hosted a two-day drama workshop and attended workshops and performances. During this time I have watched the groups developing and honing new skills and growing with the confidence and ability to use them.
To date the most frequent comment people make about my work is ‘Oh, that must be so rewarding!’, and if you look up rewarding in the dictionary it is defined as ‘something well worth doing that provides satisfaction’. That, in my view. is why the weekly classes have been so successful.
One of the most difficult things for people living in a residential setting, where there are a large number of residents, is the shortage of one-to-one interaction. This can lead to a number of emotions that are subsequently seen in the person’s behaviour. One emotion could be frustration at not getting a chance to express oneself that may result in an angry or tearful outburst. Sometimes this behaviour can lead to the person being labelled as challenging, when in fact it is probably the environment that is challenging. One wonders how long you or I would last in such a setting before letting off steam.
So where does drama come into the equation? Throughout my time teaching at St Teresa’s I have seen how drama can help people to develop confidence in communicating their feelings in a safe and positive environment.
Drama is expression, and it allows for expression through our own selves—through our voices, our movement, our sense of humour and our emotions. This means that we have endless ways of expressing ourselves. We are not limited to using our voices. This is particularly important for people who have difficulty with speaking (society’s favourite form of communication); for these people drama can sometimes be a lifeline enabling them to let their personality shine. It is also a great opportunity for people who can communicate through speech to explore their vocabulary. In all of our plays the best lines have always come from the students themselves and I am often amazed at how sophisticated and thought provoking they are.
For the residents of St Teresa’s, a weekly class is something to look forward to and it gives a purpose to their day. It’s a break from the routine, a chance to meet friends, make new ones and have fun. The classes are democratic, encouraging the students to share their thoughts and ideas and interact with each other and with me. They incorporate all the elements of drama—music, dance, movement, voice, role-play and storytelling—and provide the basis and inspiration for our annual show. The end-of-year show is an extremely important event because it provides a platform for people to show off what they have learned throughout the year and an opportunity to talk about things that concern them. For example, last year’s play dealt with issues around moving to a community house—a very real situation for many people in residential care. It also provides recognition, which in turn gives people a sense of achievement.
A sense of achievement is something that everybody in this life needs to feel as it feeds our souls and keeps us striving for more.
For the drama students in St Teresa’s the last five and a half years have seen enormous achievement that has been recognised with thunderous applause! As I write we are getting ready for our sixth play, the excitement is electric, spirits are high, people are early for rehearsal and the ideas are flowing… so I say—bring on the audience, open the curtains and let the magic begin!