“Theatre is defined as a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event in front of a live audience in a specific place, often a stage.” With its roots tracing back to the ancient times in the Theatre of Dionysus, built in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens, where plays were first performed during the 5th century, and in the Indian Subcontinent, with the composition of the Natyashastra in the 4th Century, theatre or drama as we call it today, has now reached every human being either through television and movies or through traditional theatrical plays.
Over the centuries, the concept of drama and theatre has become widespread, thus widening the scope of the art form. Today we see drama as an honest expression of one’s emotions. It has also made its way into psychology and clinical studies - we use drama therapeutically to heal people from their trauma or even simply help them emote and feel good about themselves. Drama therapy as it is called today, is the intentional use of drama/theatre processes to achieve psychological growth and change.
Of the many tools and methods used under drama therapy, therapeutic theatre is one of the best examples of the positive impact performing arts can have on one’s life. Based on the underlying concept of therapy, talking it out, and being witnessed, therapeutic theatre encourages one to perform in front of an audience, invoking a sense and feeling of being heard and seen, and receiving immense appreciation for the same. Once at a safe distance from the trauma one has experienced, they get to share it with an audience, or express through a character role, channeling their emotions and thoughts by feeling the emotion within and becoming one with the character being portrayed. This form of expression referred to as the sattvika abhinaya in the Natyashastra also plays a major role in overcoming any sort of past traumatic experiences by letting oneself out in front of an audience that is watching them perform with the utmost attention. The audience thus plays a very important role in helping someone heal or making them feel heard.
But can this also impact the audience in a positive way?
While watching a play or even a movie, we often find ourselves crying, laughing, changing body language, or even commenting out loud when the protagonist goes through a particularly similar emotion. Rasa, described in the Natyashastra as the emotion felt by the audience, is a result of the bhava, defined as the sentiment of the character, that is portrayed by the performers on stage. Something that is being presented on stage triggers emotional change within us and that is when we start to feel and empathize with the characters. Besides, you never know, crying with the character on stage just might help you overcome and let go of something you had been holding inside of you for so long! As a performing artist myself, I have both, experienced and come across audiences who have shared experiences of slipping into a state of trance, getting goosebumps while watching a performance, or feeling extremely happy after watching it. There have been multiple instances when I have cried with the protagonist or felt happy when there’s a dance or lively music. The colors on stage, the costumes, the lights, the music, all of it together make an impact on the audience, leaving them with incredible experiences.
Drama therapy, in its simplest form of an audience watching something soulful can create powerful change and if nothing else, can simply make you feel good about yourself! American playwright Arthur Miller once said, “The theatre is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It is so much like life.” and I couldn’t agree more! What could be more therapeutic than embracing these little character roles that you play in your life with a little bit of help from those on stage? After all, what’s life without a little drama?