How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Drama Therapy and Play Therapy by David Read Johnson and Amanda Gifford

I never got drama therapy. Like playback theatre, I had an active and even vocal dislike of drama therapy. I thought it looked silly. What do you think?

Yeh, I know, pink legwarmers do look silly.

But I am embodying my image of a preferred future, and it was (yes, perhaps only internally) powerful.

What is Drama Therapy?

Drama therapy is a broad name for many different styles of performance, all which have a therapeudic aim. Methods of drama therapy also include psychodrama and play therapy. Drama therapy focuses on expressing a personal narrative that is not exclusively verbal, but also relies on image, sound, movement, and gesture. Primarily, it is an embodied therapeudic practice.

Drama therapists rely on drama to allow clients to distance themselves from trauma. The client is encouraged to describe and work through the trauma using metaphor. It uses drama to assist people solve a problem in their lives, and acheive catharsis.

Unlike the work I do, drama therapy does not rely on having public performances. I attempt to distinguish drama therapy from other forms of applied theatre through this characteristic. I look at drama therapy as an umbrella term that refers to using drama in therapuedic practice that does not have a public performance outcome. 

How are drama therapy and play therapy different to community arts work?
Rather than focus primarily on community-building as I do, my impression of drama therapy is that it instead focus on building the strength of the individual. drama therapy works with a client/s, rather than a community/ies

Here is a picture from one of my community arts performances. These women are community performers from a local women's shelter speaking about their vaginas in front of 2,000 people in one of my productions of The Vagina Monologues.

This show was community arts work, building community, rather than primarily focusing on building strength of the individual. My community arts performances distinguish themselves as working with community rather than the individual through:

  • delivering the show to the performers' communities, with participants performing themselves as strong and capable
  • focus on delveloping skills with the group as a whole, rather than on an individual's achievement
  • the performers support and grow together, becoming a support base and friendship circle

At the Drama for Life festival there were several workshops and performances that utilised drama therapy. I want to have a look at 1 of those workshops.

Drama therapy with David Read Johnson

David Read Johnson co-runs the Post-Traumatic Stress Centre in the States. He believes that nothing cannot be played with. Nothing. Read Johnson works a lot with child survivors of sexual abuse. In order to deal with their traumas he plays with the abuse.

Wierd huh?!

Read Johnson works on the premise that avoiding speaking the truth causes more trauma. Consequently, he wastes no time with his clients in speaking about their trauma. He says he 'does not even bother with hello', before asking 'what happened to you?'.

Unlike playback theatre in which the storyteller sits outside of the action, and watches a replay of their trauma, or some issue in their life, in Read Johnson's work, the client engages their body in a reenactment of their story.
After speaking of what happened, Read Johnson then works with the client using a play-centred approach. He sets up a resistence for the client, attempting to put them into the position of the victim, which they will invariably resist. Read Johnson does this through:
  • clicking the door shut and laughing menacingly
  • shutting the door and saying 'no'
  • simply closing the door firmly
The client resists the role of victim, fighting with Read Johnson, at which point they become perpetrator to perpetrator. After a bit read Johnson then assumes the role of victim, being killed, tortured, or whatever it is by the client perpetrator. Read Johnson begins to enjoy the role of victim, making it look so enticing, playing it with such commitment that the client eventually wants to play the victim.
The client then takes on the role of victim and Read Johnson threatens them. He starts to bring up the actual abuse ie:

  • do you want me to poke you?
  • do you want me to poke you with something hard?
  • do you want me to poke you like your Uncle did?
The client will then fall into grief and begin to mourn the abuse. Read Johnson turns back into himself and comforts the client - if the client's parents or family are present, they take over this comforting role.

Wow. Read Johnson is not afraid of the trauma. He is not afraid.

This work is WILD!!

Drama Therapy with Amanda Gifford

Here is a photo of after Amanda Gifford's drama therapy workshop.

Yes - I look happy cos - despite the pink legwarmers - I have been able to release some trauma. Gifford's work helped me to see that I can make another choice when I am affected by post-traumatic stress. I do not have to live in the past, the fear and sadness. I can instead choose to focus my attention on the present, which i can see is strong, freeing, and totally lovely.

Amanda Gifford has studied with Read Johnson and shares a similar lack of fear for trauma.  She just goes straight in. Her lack of fear strips away a layer of fear, enabling the trauma to surface more freely. It also does not allow the client to back away from speaking through the trauma - the excuse of 'noone wants to know anyway', or 'I don't want to upset anyone' loses its hold on the client's mind. An atmosphere of safety and openness is established.
I suggest that creating a space of openess and trust is essential for those who have been sexually abused. It provides a distinct difference to an environment of secrecy that can accopany abuse.


  1. i get that it's brave.


    how does he measure people's responses?

    (apologies if measure is the wrong word, so ... mathematic ... in this context).

  2. oh, and i like your leg warmers x

  3. People surrender, they totally let go. And then they support them through this. But hte point is to get them to a point in which they let go, they submit to the pain and feel it - cos they couldn't the first time they expereinced the pain. In feeling it they can begin to work through it, to correct the false thinking that was created through the abuse ie. I deserved it, I get/show love through sex.
    Sorry my reply is so late! I wanna get notifications when people comment