Drama in business training

The use of drama in business training

 Vivien Nelson, Managing Director, Nelson Training Ltd

Nelson Training  actors prepare for a medical equipment training session
Nelson Training actors prepare for a medical equipment training session

In the last decade, a quiet revolution has taken place across the UK. Aspects of the performing arts are now common inclusions in business training sessions and conferences.

This paper will explore the background and possible reasons for this development; explain how drama is being used, and identify the benefits and ethical and practical problems associated with this relatively new branch of applied drama.

The focus of this paper is on training and not education. The uses of drama in education are many, varied and well documented (e.g. Prendergast and Saxton 2009; Wagner 1980; Bond and Nicholson 2009), and a brief search on the web will quickly identify currently hundreds of TIE (Theatre in Education) companies operating in the UK. The literature and research regarding drama in business training is less well documented as its application has not had the 40-50 year history of TIE, which is widely regarded as having its roots  in a 1965 project at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry (Open The Door, no date)  Most definitions of training distinguish it from education in terms of its narrower application to improvement in context of the working environment. “Its purpose in the work situation is to enable an individual to acquire abilities in order that he or she can perform adequately a task or job” (Buckley and Cable1990: p13).

In terms of defining efficacy, perhaps we can refer to the writings of Schechner, (2002:71) who defines it as  ‘doing something with a desired result’. However, more useful to us as a discussion vehicle or analytical tool, Schechner developed his efficacy-entertainment dyad which makes it easier to place drama-based training in the spectrum. Whilst pointing out that entertainment and efficacy are not binary opposites and are often comfortable bed fellows, he makes the point that whilst entertainment’s goal is fun, efficacy based performance is seeking results .. He expands, ‘no performance is pure efficacy or pure entertainment’. It is interesting that often the name that a training company chooses to call itself may well imply where on the efficacy/entertainment spectrum they see themselves. A drama-based training company called Purple Monster (yes, there is one!) gives a different impression from one called KSL training which sounds like a more down to earth/no nonsense approach. The pleasures and problems associated with the entertainment aspect of the drama are discussed further in this essay.

Perhaps because applied theatre is a relative newcomer to business, application, research and writings are few and often confined to specific experiments and projects (e.g. Teakle, J. and Hart, Z:2007). Whilst the essay concerns itself with applied theatre in the business environment, equally valid are terms such as applied drama, interactive drama, ‘Playback’ theatre, (1) and theatre sports, (2).Essentially, it explores either scripted or improvised drama in the workplace. More specifically, it concerns itself with drama that is interactive with delegates on a training session or attending a conference.

Most drama-based training appears to use some form of Forum Theatre as described in Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal 1979) and later explained for practitioners in details in Games for Actors and Non –actors. (Boal 1992:pp17-26). Broadly, the Forum Theatre format as used in training is usually a work-based sketch, followed by a discussion between one of the characters and  the delegates which will often involve ideas and options for handling situations more effectively,(Boal called this called ‘hot-seating’) and The session is finalised by a re-run, when delegates are encouraged to stop the sketch  if they can think of ways to improve the outcome (Boal called this called ‘stop-start’). Babbage (2004: p45) argues that Forum theatre was heavily influenced by Brecht’s Epic Theatre. Notably, Boal witnessed how the plays of Brecht had a political purpose and he liked to his ‘break down the fourth wall’ where the actor will talk directly to the audience. Boal’s ‘spectactors’ are in fact the audience/delegates who are invited to join in the sketch and become (or attack) the protagonists, but she argues that the willingness to do this will depend upon the degree of empathy that is generated in the training room for the victims in the sketch. How much this affects the outcome and is discussed further on.

Whether or not Boal actually invented Forum theatre is discussed at length in Babbage (2004:p68).Even if he cannot be credited with inventing this highly used technique, certainly he was the practitioner who developed it and wrote extensively about its applications. Again, the significance of this will be addressed further on in the essay when the ethics of drama-based training in business are explored.

Forum theatre (and derivatives) has proved to be an ideal vehicle for use in business training rooms and some observers may see a significant ethical dilemma and paradox in using a theatrical tool that was originally designed to assist the suffering population under the totalitarian regime after the military coups of 1964 and 1968 in Brazil. Details of these dark years are described in detail in Boal’s autobiography, Hamlet and The Bakers Son (Boal: 2001: 284-298)

Most drama-based training companies will explain on their web site how and why they intend to use Forum Theatre as one of the main training methods:

Forum Theatre is an entertaining and highly effective training methodology which draws upon theatre skills to engage participants and to embed learning.

Most often used for group training, Forum Theatre uses professional actors to perform workplace based scenarios and encourages the participants to explore alternative outcomes by directing the actors to enact other behaviours (RoleplayUK, no date )

It also has to be acknowledged that in exploring the application of drama-based training for organisations, this is only one of the many genres of ‘the arts’ that have been harnessed to management and organisational development in the last decade or two. There has also been a rise in the application of storytelling, visual arts, literary arts, dance, and music. These are well documented in Nissley’s chapter in Arts-based learning in management education (Wankel and Defillippi 2002: pp27-61). He cites many examples of how the arts can act as strong metaphors when trying to improve organisational life and performance. His examples not only spread across the artistic genres but also go further into examples of (say) how blues, jazz, and country can assist in personal and team development. A further exploration might have expanded into the different genres of drama that are being harnessed such as improvisation, stand alone sketches, Shakespeare, and comedy etc. Taking this a stage further, whilst drama is a powerful medium,(efficacy or entertainment) maybe equally powerful is the use of comedy as a training tool, especially in times of reduction and redundancy in industry and the public sector. The physical and psychological benefits of laughter are well-documented (Helpguide. no date); Marano: 2003) and some of the very key ingredients that go some way towards comedy; ‘faith’, incongruity, fear, (Double 2000:pp.15-19) are, or can be common features of the business-based sketches used in drama-based training. Critics of humour however, will have an easy target unless the training session harnessing humour can have some bottom line results proving that the purpose was not purely entertainment.

What this paper will not cover is the practise of merely role-play actors playing the part of (say) customers for business, patients, (for the NHS) or members of the public (for the police).

Applied drama in business and management training is relatively new, but from when and where did it evolve? So many social, political, technical, and business influences may have brought about the rise of applied theatre in business and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where it started in the UK to be used on a significant scale. Many texts (e.g. St. George, et.al:1999) will argue that using actors in business wasn’t new and had been carried out for years but this newer development harnessed improvisation, Forum Theatre, invisible theatre and related interactive drama-based methods (Playback etc) to use in the workplace training environment.

The watershed years appear to be 1997/98. In was in this year that Shakespeare in Management was introduced to the world of training by Richard Olivier who offered workshops linking Shakespeare with leadership and management. His ideas are still being used on training courses and his position on using Shakespeare detailed in Olivier (2003).

It was in 1998, that The Nottingham Playhouse put out a booklet called Theatre in Industry, which offered the theatre’s resources to design tailor made plays for organisations. Michael Billington describes this act as typical of the ‘desperate straits to survive’ (Billington 2007: p365) Nottingham Theatre’s  attempt to offer tailor-made shows for local businesses, is further explained by an example of the new (1997) Labour (‘New Labour’) ‘Third Way’ approach harnessing market capitalism to old style socialism.

Following the 1997 landslide election, the new labour government created a new senior government ministry, the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, (DCMS) thus elevating the status of the arts, in the words of the Arts Council web site, (Arts council. No author)) it then proceeded to ‘slash the funding’. Strong emphasis was placed on the link between the arts and education with an expectation that the arts could and should provide educational experiences for all, subject to new ‘commercial’ type performance measures such as the size and demography of the audiences. No longer then was it a case for the arts to be funded for art’s sake. It had to show a purpose. (i.e. efficacy, not just entertainment!)We are only a few steps here from the world of applied arts.

It was in 1998 that R.A.D.A. began to offer training for business and their web site now has a special section devoted to commercial training. It is likely that this came out of the realisation that there was a strong link between the essential business skills of presentation giving and those skills taught in drama colleges. By training executives with members from the acting profession, maybe the barriers between the disciplines were beginning to crumble.

In reality, for many theatres, the economic crises from years of reduced government funding had forced them and theatre companies to think creatively about how they could subsidise the artistic side of their organisations and offer skills to businesses.  This was particularly important if the theatre company had the overheads of a theatre building and staff on the payroll.

In 2010, one of the longest established theatres/theatre companies that offered business training, (Yorkshire-based) CragRats, went into liquidation causing over 70 people to lose their jobs. However, the only profitable part of CragRats, the business training, has remained and been retained in London without the financial weight of a theatre to run. It was perhaps ironic that the arm of business set up to subsidise the ‘main’ artistic side, was in the end the only part that could sustain itself.

Maybe in 1997/98, business training was ready for something new as PowerPoint, (which was officially launched in May 1990) had by then lost its novelty and any harnessing of ‘the performing arts’ in training had been restricted to the popular Video Arts films which after being launched in the early 1970’s with 16mm film, it  went on to expand into (first) VHS videos and then (more economic and therefore accessible) DVDs. Their web site boasts that they ‘pioneered the use of humour in training’. Popular as these films were however, delegates on training courses had had nearly two decades of exposure to them and of course they lacked, the ‘liveness’, flexibility, often relevance, and ‘immediacy’ which only live drama can bring. ) The power and benefits of ‘liveness’ against film are explored in Auslander, Philip. (1999: p.xi-xiii), In short, towards the end of the 1990’s training rooms were ready for ‘something else’.

Whilst some companies that use drama for training use scripted performances, most use interactive drama of one form or another and certainly, many drama-based training companies will explicitly mention the adoption and adaptation of Forum Theatre as their main training tool. Adaptations of Forum Theatre give the training designer the opportunity to involve the delegates in a wide range of options, ideas, ethical, and emotional issues, and give the event the flexibility it needs on topics where often there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers but a range of various options.

The arguments in favour of using interactive drama as a business training tool are very strong. Aside from the novelty, and the entertainment value, there are some strong pedagogical reasons why this harnessing of the performing arts is so effective. It reaches out to all learning styles and has a particular strength when the trainer and trainee is confronted with complex, emotional or ethical issues.

Ironically, the sheer fun factor in this training medium has for some observers always been its weakness. As Beckwith (2003:p207) states, “Can delegates on a training course laughing so much actually be learning anything?” The reactions to drama-based training tend to fall into two camps, “There are those who see the relevance of the arts in employee development as at best, a bit of fun and at worse completely irrelevant.” Beckwith, however, goes on to state that acting techniques can help focus on “emotional intelligence skills, difficult issues, and in some cases dramatic representation of hard-to-grasp business concepts”, all of which she says we are “less likely to achieve with a purely didactic or instructive approach.” (2003:p207).

Why should we ever doubt the power of the performing arts to tackle complex issues when in 2009 Lucy Prebble’s musical Enron tackled the complexities and ethics of a financial crisis? As Michael Billington (Guardian: 2009) stated:

“ENRON could all be dry as dust. But the pulse and vigour of play and production stem from their ability to make complex financial ideas manifest. Everything is made visually apprehensible”.

From a practitioner viewpoint, the power of Forum Theatre is the ability to tackle issues raised by the group and it has the flexibility to help design and demonstrate work-based encounters that delegates are happy with in terms of the process and ‘result’. The ‘tailoring’ process can take place at the beginning of the session (discussions with or drawings from the delegates, pre-course questionnaires, shadowing and/or interviews with delegates and/or their managers) or during training itself. The challenge however comes in structuring the content. In Boalian terms, the delegates must be able to identify with and have empathy with ‘the new 21 century work-based oppressed’ (discussed further on).

The content must be realistic enough for the delegates to connect with, and yet be able to maintain sufficient emotional detachment for objectivity during emotive or controversial scenes. For Forum Theatre in business training to be effective, the facilitator must constantly stress that none of the characters portrayed are representing anyone in the room or those of their colleagues. This is essential as it helps attain the fine line between emotional connection and dysfunctional emersion where the drama would be too personalised. Viewing it with objective eyes and sufficient detachment would be difficult if ever the delegates felt that the actors were deliberately portraying them.

Boal, in the early days of Theatre of the Oppressed experienced how important the briefing role of the facilitator (or ‘joker’ as he named the role) was to prepare the group and how important it was to get the Forum content just right. This came from his harsh experience as  the level of interaction at one point resulted in one of the actors being attacked with a broom by the audience! (Boal 2001: p207)

Babbage (2002:pp7-8) is in no doubt that Boal was heavily influenced by his New York-based playwright mentor John Gassner who had in 1956 developed his ideas about ‘theatricalism’ and anti-realism. A keen advocate of modern realism in plays, Gassner argued that audiences were quite capable of entering the world of realism one moment and switching to theatricalism in another. In many ways, this is exactly what Forum theatre asks of an ‘audience’ …to dip in and out of reality and suspend belief as and when needed. The result in Gassner’s terms are a creative synthesis.

It must be stressed again however, that, so much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the actor in ‘performing’ in a manner that captures the imagine of the delegates, and gives them sufficient belief in the character. This may be even more important when using comedic characters for the much needed ‘faith’ mentioned earlier.

Helen Nicholson (2005:p47) is a keen advocate of harnessing the performing arts to business training. She argues that it has ‘brought a new language into commerce and industry emphasising the importance of creativity and intuition in the workplace.” (2005:p47) Modern businesses she confirms are expected to have staff who are flexible, adaptable, able to take initiative and be team players. Going further, Jon McKenzie has observed a paradigm shift in the changing role of modern managers and employees which requires a new set of skills and qualities such as: participatory, collaborative, innovative and assertive. (McKenzie 2001:p48)

Joyce St George et al, maintain that there are huge benefits in harnessing drama for the modern training room;

“Drama, with its fluidity, spontaneity, and open-endedness, is a tool for presenting information that entertains, addresses controversial workplace topics […] and transforms organisational cultures” (St George, et al: 1999).

They maintain that the effectiveness lies in the business knowing how the drama can help and choosing the right trainer and format. Actors skilled in improvisation can listen to the key issues of the delegates and by putting together the characters that they have to deal with or manage and the context in which this happens, they can design an improvised sketch on the spot.

In terms of  remembering and recalling the skills and behaviours that are being trained in the training room, perhaps one of drama’s biggest strengths is the emotional recall that is so well described and documented in Stanislavski (1962: pp163-192). Quite often, a training session using drama will be able to take the delegates through a rollercoaster of emotions (angry, laughter, frustration, injustice/unfairness) and these are often extremely useful triggers to assist in the effectiveness of the session via instant emotional recall.

It could be argued that a solitary skilled facilitator/presenter might be able to access these emotions, but dramatic scenes depicting everyday encounters with actors interacting, generating realistic emotive scenes are instantly accessible. The discussion generated during the hot seat with a skilled actor can also be extremely useful in encouraging delegates to reflect on their behaviours and values and articulate ideas and suggestions. In many ways, there are overlaps here with Heathcote’s (2005) ‘Mantle of the Expert’, turning the learners into ‘experts’ for the period of the learning session. This can be a great booster for confidence and in many ways when we ask the delegates to ‘advise’ the hot-seated actor, we are turning them into instant ‘experts’.

Using drama for business and management training is easy to advocate though hard to measure, but it is not without its practical and ethical problems. In any training session, there needs to be a high degree of trust between the delegates and the facilitator and this is perhaps especially important where drama-based training is concerned. The interactive sessions rely on engagement and interaction with the actors and the climate generated in the training room must be conducive for this. As mentioned earlier, delegates must be prepared to suspend reality and yet at the same time be open to engage with real problems.

Sometimes, during the hot seating, it becomes apparent that the attitude-changing attempt is backfiring. When empathy with the staff member (our new oppressed) becomes too strong and feelings run high when (say) they have been fighting against anger and abuse from customers or bullying and bigotry from their line managers, the delegates can, and often do, refuse to offer any ideas and advice that are rational, sensible and conforms to the legal framework and company policy. Instead, (probably as part of the group therapeutic /cathartic rebelling) they instruct the actor to do what they would love to do in real life, i.e. tell the customer or the manager to go to hell and damn the job. Clearly, whilst this may give the group a feeling of satisfaction in the short term, it will not do the group any good in the long term and certainly will not get the learning and development managers commissioning drama-based training again. So much depends upon the mindset of the group before the training and the climate generated by the facilitator on the day. On the other hand, perhaps the delegates are reacting (even in the subconscious) to what they suspect is the attempt to placate them, win them over, and brainwash them with drama and comedy. Imposing a whimsical climate on them though training is not perhaps appropriate when feelings are running high about cutbacks, redundancies, or years of bad management. The situation is compounded when, as is often the case in business training, the delegates are sent on the training against their will (called ‘conscripted’ in training circles).

Delegates can also get very uncomfortable with sketches portraying people like themselves in everyday scenes, not just because of the possibly of negative memories but the possibility of what Festinger (1957) refers to as cognitive dissonance. By using drama to challenge their skills level, values, and behaviours at work, the session can easily allow the viewers to see ‘themselves’ and often  the behaviours portrayed may not make them feel entirely comfortable with what they view. Scenes showing managers lacking empathy, front line staff lacking listening skills, support staff not being professional can all force staff to reflect deeply about their own standards and stance in the workplace. Of course, whilst it is common for a training event to do this, the very nature of drama-based training will have a more powerful effect. It could be argued however, that the more ‘cognitive dissonance’ there is in session, the more effective it is likely to be, but the paradox here is that the facilitator still needs to keep a positive friendly atmosphere conducive to the interaction with the drama.

On a purely practical note, exploring interpersonal skills, ethics, emotions and feelings maybe ideal for the drama-based approach but it has been argued that when it comes to knowledge based topics, it has severe limitations. This may be so, but there are still many ways in which an otherwise dry session, for example on The Equality Act 2010 or a session exploring the complexities of a company’s disciplinary procedure can be portrayed during sketches depicting colleagues having a discussion about the law, or by observing a disciplinary interview scrutinising it for procedural as well as interpersonal flaws.

In short, the drama may not be ideal for training people complex issues, but can certainly aid understanding and knowledge of facts and figures or raise awareness of dangers. This has been known and used for many years by the UK government using cartoons for giving out public information (3).

Boal for Business? How ethical is it using a tool developed by a Marxist for capitalist industry? Once the practicalities are overcome, is it right to adapt and adopt this theatrical approach which has been used for the poverty-stricken, socially, economically, and politically oppressed together with marginalised groups throughout the world in the last 30 years?

Most drama-based training companies will openly state on their web sites that they used Forum theatre as one of their main training tools; therefore, there is no escaping the fact that a tool originally devised for Brazil’s oppressed is being harnessed for business purposes.

Indeed, given the benefits outlined earlier what is surprising is that it took so long for this marriage to take place?

Whilst politically and theatrically, the two main influences in Boal’s life had been Marx and Brecht, in terms of applying his interactive/participatory theatre to causes, more significant influences were Paulo Friere (1921-1997), Jacob Moreno(1889-1974), and his second (psychoanalyst) wife Cecilia.  Whilst Friere (1970) may have been instrumental in confirming the importance of empowerment and audience participation, Moreno’s work in psychodrama opened (at first reluctantly) the possibility of Forum theatre –type approaches being used for other purposes such as psychotherapy.

Justification for this for Boal came from describing the new oppression as coming from ‘within’, or inside their own heads. He described this as ‘Cop in the head’ and admits that it takes Forum theatre towards other domains such as sports, politics, psychology, and philosophy (Boal 1990). Boal himself therefore was not averse to Theatre of the Oppressed being used for other purposes. In fact, his flexibility has been the object of strong attacks within the theatrical profession, academics and practitioners. Rather than maintain his revolutionary ideas about attacking the capitalist structure, according to Davis and O’Sullivan (2000:16: 288-297) by working with drug addicts and prisoners, he was implicitly working with them to adjust to the capitalist status quo. In other words, Boal was already compromising his standards and ideals and no longer challenging capitalism. Much harsher attacks come from David George (1995:p39:) who accuses Boal and his followers of blatant contradictions, accusing the practitioners of theatre of the oppressed as being “middle class,  bourgeois, paternalistic, and self congratulatory” .Moreover, George asserts that Boal’s techniques did not in fact originate from Brazil but sprang out of activist theatre in North America. Jan Cohen-Cruz,  in “Mainstream or Margin? US activist performance and Theatre of the Oppressed” 1990; pp 43-49) describes the activist theatre in the USA using types of interactive drama which were separate from the later Theatre of the Oppressed . Critics have indeed lined up to attack Boal and his followers on the  grounds that Boal had abandoned his earlier political agenda. Was Boal, a class traitor and hypocrite or merely a pragmatist being flexible in a changing world?

It is clear then, that even without the application of Forum Theatre or any other Boalian techniques to business, ethically speaking there are holes in Boals’ own ideological purity.

Does this then, give us ‘permission’ to use Boalian methods in business? Indeed, as mentioned earlier, are they Boalian methods or has the term been attributed unjustifiably?

Certainly, Forum Theatre, as used by the dozens of theatre-based training companies is not aiming to change the world. However, there perhaps does exist in our modern society a new ‘oppressed’. Businesses and public organisations are struggling under the pressure of the recession and fierce cutbacks. The public sector (LEA’s, Schools, Colleges, NHS Etc) are subject to strict business-like specific targets and measures (with the associated paperwork) and managers are required to met these with a skilled but sometimes sceptical workforce who have often been subject to cut-backs, ‘initiative-overload’, hard-to-reach targets and threats of radical job changes and redundancy.

For many of the staff who have worked in the sector most of their lives, this target-driven climate is not the public sector culture that they came into and adjustment is often difficult. In addition to this, ‘customer charters’, and decades of consumer rights media coverage making life difficult for front-line staff in customer facing positions have driven up expectations from the customers. For front-line staff, their customers with renewed confidence and expectations can make their lives stressful. In the private sector, the pressure is on to cut staff costs when overheads need to trimmed down in the face of fierce competition, making work often stressful and hard. In harsh times like these it is easy to understand why organisations may well select training which will give them some (albeit temporary) cathartic relief from the strains of S.M.A.R.T. objectives.(i.e. hard measured objectives which are, specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and timed).

However, if we actually deconstruct what goes on in the training room, we will find some interesting paradoxes and problems. Many of the drama-based training strengths can become its weakness. To explain; the immediacy, power and flexibility of drama is a powerful tool. Done well it can indeed win hearts and minds and carefully constructed sketches that delegates can easily identify with can take them on a roller coaster of emotional experiences very close to home. It is often (deliberately) humorous to release tension and create a convivial atmosphere, yet it can also be very manipulative, condescending, and almost borderline brainwashing.

Scenes depicting customer interfaces invariably resort to stereotypes, which conform to common held perceptions and prejudices. The delegates will view the customers as the protagonists. However, realistically, the staff member portrayed will often display high signs of irritation and finish the customer encounter being rude and ‘unprofessional’.

Basically, we can pose the question, “Whose side are the trainers on?” They are paid by management but need buy-in from the delegates. Forum theatre sketches need to be sympathetic to the plight of the participants, yet demonstrate ‘scope for improvement’.

In addition, of course not be overly critical of everyone’s paymaster. Even mild elements of subversion might result in an instant clampdown on the proceedings. It could be argued that this may be a microcosm of what happens in the wider society with governments funding arts that then challenges the state.

Another possible ethical issue concerns the way that Forum theatre is introduced  to the session. Trainers will often reassure group that they do not have to role-play. With buy-in secured they can then go about explaining their role as spectactors and encourage, but not coerce them to take over the scene at any given point. However, is this entirely true? We could argue that the delegates in are in fact performing as they judge the scenes and engage with the actors. Whilst we are not demanding soliloquies to mass audiences, by virtue of their inevitable dialogue with the actors on the hot seat they are taking on a ‘role.’

In Schechner (2002: p25) eight types/levels of performance are identified, in everyday life including of course our performance at work in business and other writers (Goffman 1967:p22; Carlson 1996: pp4-5; Johnstone 1981:pp75-105]) have identified how our everyday lives involve a degree of role-playing and ‘acting’.

As the recession bites, drama-based training may need to prove itself empirically as a real investment with a bottom line return on investment for organisations. Already, as a cost cutting exercise, or perhaps a way of showing that they are embracing the digital age, more and more learning and development officers are currently turning to e-learning.(4) Drama-based training will never be able to compete on cost given that you need at least one facilitator and two actors, and whilst there are convincing arguments demonstrating that the training has given organisations a real bottom line benefit what has never been proven is how this is compared with conventional (or even other arts-based) training methods. It begs the question; can you ever accurately compare and contrast the benefits of the two methods? Possibly not, though it may at least be feasible to ascertain the effects of ‘live’ theatre in training and media presentation. (5)We may instinctively know that theatre is a powerful medium for training skills, addressing emotional issues, reaching out to all learning styles, and even imparting knowledge, but until research can prove and measure its effectiveness and benefits over non-drama/traditional/conventional methods, there will always be fuel for the doubters who believe that its value is purely entertainment. The argument in its adoption will always be strengthened if or when this style of training has proved conclusively that its champions other methods. This perhaps is the biggest challenge that the drama-based practitioners face in the business world and one which mirrors the application of the arts everywhere.


(1) Playback Theatre is the term given to the interactive drama method developed in 1975 by the US dramatists Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas.  Blatner (2007:45) describes Playback theatre as something which, “affirms the importance and dignity of personal experience, enables people to view their lives in new ways, and draws people closer as they see their common humanity.”

(2) Theatre sports is the term given to the improvised theatre devised by in 1998 by Keith Johnstone. There is now an international not for profit Theatre sports organisation.

(3) Perhaps the most famous of these being the characters of Joe and Petunia, on the beach watching the drowning man (who eventually call the coastguard,) still available from the public information film archive.

(4) This is evidenced by the types of training companies taking out stands at training exhibitions and conferences. Whereas 10 years ago, the percentage of e-learning training companies was around 1%, the last CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) showed that this has increased to nearly 10%.This increase may have been at the expense of drama-based training which has fallen to just a handful of companies willing to risk the expense of an expensive exhibition stand.

(5) A possible experiment would be to have a series of sketches with a control group given the sketch on a screen and recorded and the other group having exactly the same sketch and actors acted to another group and check memory and understanding afterwards. Proximity to the audience would need to be the same and of course what this would lack is the real benefits and effects of the hot-seat interaction where so much of the learning  takes place.

(6) This is indeed one of the projects currently being undertaken by Nelson Training Ltd



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Articles/ Journal references

Ackroyd, J. (2000) ‘Applied Theatre: Problems and Possibilities’. Applied Theatre Journal, 1

Beckwith, A. (2003) ‘Improving Business Performance-the potential of arts in training’. Industrial and Commercial Training. 35(5) pp207-209

Billington, M. (23 September 2009) ‘Enron’. The Guardian, page 

Boal, A. (1990) ‘The Cop in The Head- Three Hypotheses’. The Drama Review. 34 (3)

Boggs, J., Michel, A., and Holtom Brooks, C.(2007) ‘Using the Arts to Acquire and Enhance Management Skills’. Journal of Management Education 31 pp 832-858

Bond, E. and Nicholson, H. [2009]  Theatre and Education Palgrave, Macmillan.

Brown, Peter (18 January 2007)  ‘Can Shakespeare really be a useful management tool?’ The Independent, page.14

David M. Boje, (1991) ‘Consulting and Change in the Storytelling Organisation’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 4 (3), pp.7 – 17

Cohen, Cruz, Jan.(1990) ‘Boal at NYU: a workshop and its aftermath’. The Drama Review, 34 (3), pp 43-49

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. “Mainstream or Margin? US Activist Performance and Theatre of the Oppressed” Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism. Ed. Mady Schutzmann and Jan Cohen-Cruz. London, New York: Routledge, 1994. 110-123.

Davis, David and O’Sullivan, Carmel (2000),  ‘Boal and the Shifting Sands: the Un-Political Master Swimmer’. New Theatre Quarterly 16 pp288-297

Double, Oliver (2000) ‘Teaching Stand-Up Comedy: A Mission: Impossible?’ Studies in Theatre and Performance, 20 (1),  pp.14-23

George, David (1995) ‘Theatre of the Oppressed and Teatro de Arena: In and Out of Context’. Latin American Theatre Review, Spring edition. , pp?

Marano, Hara, Estroff. (April 29, 2003: 17) ‘The benefits of laughter’. Psychology Today.

Mockler, Robert. (January 1st 2009) ‘Using drama to teaching business ethics’. Review of Business Research. Pp 1-8

Nicolaidis, Christos and Liotas, Naum. (February 2006) ‘A role for theatre in the education, training and thinking processes of managers’. Industry and Higher Education. pp 19-24

St George, Joyce., and Schwager, Sally and Canavan, Frank (1999) ‘A guide to drama-based training’. Employment Relations Today, 25 (8) pp 39-5

Teakle, J. And Hart, Z. (10-12 September 2007) ‘Utilizing Drama-Based Training To Achieve Behavioural Change in Safety’. Society of Petroleum Engineers. SPA Asia Pacific Health, Safety, Security, and Environment Conference and Exhibition. Bangkok, Thailand,.

Roisin Woolnough (15 May 2007)Drama-based training: what is the point?’  Personnel Today, on-line http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2007/05/15/40741/drama-based-training-what-is-the-point.html 


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