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What Is Applied Drama?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

Applied drama is a theatrical or filmed production that isn't focused on the goal of public entertainment as are most shows. Instead, it's written and acted out for educational and/or therapeutic purposes. Crisis management training, such as that used in medical or emergency response professions, often includes applied drama to simulate crises situations. Storytelling may also be done to help others heal from a certain event or condition as well as to raise awareness or inspire solutions and change. Schools and other community settings are typical places where applied drama is performed.

For example, a group devoted to the prevention of drunk driving may write, produce and perform productions that dramatize the messages they want to get across to the public. They may tour schools and community centers to perform plays with the message that driving a vehicle after drinking alcohol should never be done as people can and do die because of it. The number of actors and crew as well as the exact style and content of this type of applied drama varies widely, but typically includes vivid sounds and visuals to make an impact on the audience.

Woman painting
Woman painting

An applied type of drama may be inspired or based on real events, such as in an actual family's experience with a drunk driving death. There are many other socially relevant topics often addressed by community-centered groups and created as applied drama to perform for the public. These include bullying, drug abuse, date rape, racial or sexual discrimination and eating disorders as well as many other possible subjects.

Applied drama is sometimes called "interactive theater," as the main goal is to involve and inspire a public or community audience. Unlike regular theater productions in which entertainment is the main goal — even though there may also be social messages being dramatized in the play — the audience is often encouraged to ask questions or make comments directly after the performance. In this way, awareness is raised and a dialog is started about the subject matter of the drama. The group producing the play may also hand out pamphlets or other information about the topic to the audience.

In crisis training, actors may be hired to simulate a situation such as people forced overboard due to a boating accident. They could be expected to appear as if they were drowning. The trainees are then expected to use what they learned in their training to rescue the victims and apply life-saving skills correctly. They may be graded based on their response to the applied drama situation.

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