top of page
What Everybody Should Know About Drama

This was presented by Diane Radford for a Workshop on Using Drama in Adult Literacy, ACAL Conference, Darwin University, Australia in 2010


Drama empowers through fun


Drama classes and productions are fun (particularly group devised) and can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, at any level, from any background, culture or discipline.



  • Encourages self-expression

  • Cultivates the imagination

  • Is a multisensory learning tool

  • Develops creativity through exploration and experimentation

  • Helps with learning, understanding and retaining information

  • Develops the eight intelligences

  • Allows us to see things from a different perspective and challenge any limiting views of the world

  • Assists in resolving conflict

  • Helps us overcome limiting self-beliefs and establish confident communication skills

  • Develops language and voice and performance skills for public speaking

  • Evolves acting skills


This makes drama a powerful learning and teaching tool.  Let me expand upon this ...

Process v Product v Devised Drama Background


Examining the different pedagogies of drama in the past century will help us understand how drama is used today.


Process drama allows exploration and problem solving in safe, supported
and motivated situations where students are more likely to take risks

and ‘have a go’ without the threat of real life consequences.  (Cusworth & Simons 1997)


Process drama empowers people to reflect on the world around

and how we react to it. Dorothy Heathcote


Dorothy Heathcote (1926-2011) was a pioneer in Process Drama.  Improvisation is the heart of Process Drama.  Participants create fictional worlds, where themes and issues are explored and deep personal connections made. 


The participants play fictional characters, and the improvisations become the catalyst to questions about who, what, when, where and why the characters exist in the fictional worlds.


Process drama does not culminate in a ‘production.’

Product drama which works towards a production also has its educational merits. Gavin Bolton


Gavin Bolton (Heathcote’s contemporary) believed that product drama which works towards ‘production’ also has educational merits.  However, controversy existed over whether ‘process drama’ or ‘product drama’ had the most benefit to a student. 

The history of devised theatre involves a number of theatre practitioners, including Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook who experimented with and developed the idea of actors as creative artists in their own right, as opposed to performers carrying out the ideas of the writer and director. Whilst the actors were supported to make creative decisions about how they performed, they were not supported to make decisions about what they performed.  It was Etienne Decroux, a mime artist and educator, who encouraged students to create their own work, and because of this, he is referred to as the father of modern devised performance.


Drama is a form of expression of all cultures


Throughout history drama has existed all over the world in its various forms: the religious miracle plays; the Roman and Greek theatres; Japanese Noh theatre; indigenous performance in the forms of storytelling, dance and performance rituals, etc. 


The emotion, gesture and imitation of drama are universally understood by all cultures. 



Drama cultivates the Imagination


Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge”


  • Imagination is at the centre of innovation, invention, problem solving, science and the arts.

  • Imagination develops creative self-expression in writing and speaking.

  • Drama teaches people to imagine, explore, experiment, create and share in front of others.

  • Drama, through improvisation, allows learners to look at the same information in new ways.

Drama is a Multi-sensory Learning Tool


Drama engages the mind, body, voice and emotions to interpret and convey information and ideas to others. 


And the process begins with how life is experienced through our 5 senses externally – what we see, what we hear, what we touch, what we smell and what we taste.  Every multi-sensory experience is internally processed, interpreted and imprinted by the brain, and determines how we react to or engage in life.


We can remember (sensory recall) any experience at any time by rewinding the movie screen of our minds.  For example, if I said to you “let’s experience our favourite chocolate bar.”  You can see the bar of chocolate in front of you now, you can feel it and hear the sound of the wrapper being pulled off, and as you bring the chocolate towards your mouth, your nose catches that chocolate smell, then as you eat it you can taste that sweet, smooth chocolate taste that you enjoy so much.  I recalled every detail of that experience.  Did you?


We use our imagination to create something (sensory construct) through internal images, sounds and feelings etc., and it is drama that stimulates and develops the imagination. 


Retention and Comprehension is helped by a multisensory approach


Using a multi-sensory approach is helpful when studying for examinations or for comprehending and retaining text and ideas.


The Neurolinguistic Programming approach is that everyone has a preferred sensory system either a visual, auditory or kinesthetic approach which is used for learning.  My experiments have led me to believe that drama is useful for discovering your own preferred learning style because the visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory systems are constantly stimulated in drama class.   Students soon discover their sensory system preference and sometimes find combining all three works better for them when learning and mastering text.  


I allow my students to play with props and draw illustrations while they learn.  One student who successfully won a scholarship to Cambridge University, England shared that the habit of drawing or playing with something while learning in drama lessons helped her retain information and produce work in short timeframes at University. 


Another example is, if a student with a preferred kinesthetic learning style acts out a word like “escape” in front of the class, that student is more likely to remember the word, and what it means by acting it out, than if he/she had to memorize it through auditory repetition for a written test. 


​Drama helps us understand an opposite view


Standing in someone else’s shoes can help with seeing a different perspective, challenge limiting views of the world and help resolve conflict.


Because drama connects you emotionally and to the material which helps embed it more firmly in the mind.  For example, the conflict for New Zealander’s in the Springbok Tour of 1981 becomes meaningful on a personal level if ‘acted out’.    

Both the for and against the Springbok playing in New Zealand can be explored.  Through this process the issues from different perspectives can be understood. 


This technique is also used in therapy.


Drama develops the eight distinct intelligences


Howard Gardner’s (1983) eight distinct intelligences inherent to human beings:


  1. Kinesthetic Intelligence

  2. Linguistic Intelligence

  3. Spatial Intelligence

  4. Musical Intelligence

  5. Logical/mathematical Intelligence

  6. Interpersonal Intelligence (social)

  7. Intrapersonal Intelligence (self-awareness)

  8. Naturalistic Intelligence (innate qualities and natural instincts)


Drama used in its ‘widest’ context helps develop all of these eight intelligences.  Can you think of any other activity that will do this?

Drama benefits school, work and life 


Skills learned through regular drama classes on how to improvise, tell stories, role play, interview and even do a running commentary extend beyond the drama lesson.


Drama helps people play different roles (or wear different hats) throughout their lifetime, or even during the course of a single day.


The benefits of drama such as self-confidence, personality development, empathy, and communication skills are invaluable at school, in the work place, and in social interactions with people. 


For many years I ran an adult workshop “Performing for Fun” (essentially a group devised production).  Each participant created a character, a scenario was developed and scenes explored and evolved between characters, rehearsed and then performed to friends and family after nine weekly sessions. One workshop was filmed from beginning to end and the film enabled me to view the progress over time.  Valuable insights were gained on how drama can influence people’s lives for the better.  For example, one participant who worked as a manager at a Specialist Authority which investigated accidents had to write and present evidence in a court case, and because he was mildly dyslexic and quite shy and introverted, this was very stressful for him.  His limiting self-belief about being dyslexic did not help.  However, he decided to do the 'Performing for Fun' workshop to see if he could overcome these issues.  I was surprised from day one by his creativity which overcame any lack of confidence.  He gave everything a go to the best of his ability and enjoyed himself.  He developed his own character, enjoyed working with others to develop the scenario, wrote and learnt his own script, interviewed on camera generously and honestly, and performed magically on the night!  He shone in his own right.


For students who struggle in traditional schooling.  Drama can help students by acting out classroom material:


  • Students who struggle with reading and writing, may demonstrate an intelligence or ability previously unnoticed.


  • Students reading comprehension, story analysis, vocabulary development, and story recall can be improved.

Drama also promotes Literacy and Language Arts


  • Drama helps develop literacy in schools and for ESL students.

  • Language Arts components are reading, writing, speaking and listening:

    • Process drama can help speaking and listening skills,

    • Product drama can help reading, listening and speaking skills,

    • Devised theatre can help reading, writing, speaking and listening.

  • Drama also develops storytelling which is an essential ingredient in creative writing and public speaking.  Life is about stories.

  • Performance training develops the voice—its power and expression so that it conveys emotion and attitude.  It also improves reading-aloud skills and speech clarity.

Shared Power encourages rapport and enhances engagement and communication


I believe that Process drama is about shared power between student and teacher.  I respect the ideas of my students and their ideas are used to further the drama.  The rapport established between the students and teacher encourages trust and openness which enhances the students’ engagement in the work, and their communication skills.

​Drama has many practical advantag

  • Low cost—drama and theatre activities don’t necessarily require an expensive venue, equipment, props or costumes.

  • You can do drama anywhere as long as there is room for some movement.  I have seen productions in an actor’s city apartment bedroom, hotel rooms, buses, elevators, basements and even balconies.

  • You can use a minimalist theatre approach where the actor stimulates the imagination of the audience with minimal props and equipment, and even actors

  • Drama activities can be evolved, revised and changed to suit learners needs

  • Repetition of drama activities or rehearsals helps build confidence, improves technique and develops creativity. 

  • People from different backgrounds, cultures, or learning styles can do drama.

And Finally, the Infinite Possibilities of Drama


Drama doesn’t have to be taught for drama sake.  Teachers can apply it in simple ways to any subject to help students overcome their limiting beliefs and fears about a subject like science or even maths.


I believe, like Gavin Bolton, that drama is a powerful learning and teaching tool because it promotes “the deepest kind of change that can take place … at the level of subjective meaning.”


So, do you agree?   Drama is empowering!


Sources acknowledged for this article

Dorothy Heathcote

Gavin Bolton

Cusworth & Simons

Albert Einstein

Neurolinguistic Programming (Dr Richard Bolton)

Howard Gardner

Wikipedia on Devised Theatre

bottom of page