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Drama-based training – HRD 2002 preview feature


HRD2002The exhibition at HRD 2002 will feature several organisations who provide drama-based training. This looks like it's becoming an important growth area in training, so to get a better idea of what to expect, TrainingZONE has spoken to some practitioners about what drama-based training can do and why it's taking off. Their answers show that they have different emphases and methods, suggesting something of the range of options now available within this sector.

What does drama bring to training that other methods can't?

Blue Beetle: Drama Centred Learning is immediate - unlike video, a scene happens right in the centre of delegates, is tailored exactly to a client organisation, and is able to incorporate up to the moment details, developments and in-house humour. In addition, having learnt a new skill, for example some questioning techniques, a delegate is able to try out what they know on a real-live situation in a non-threatening situation.

Steps: The great benefits are behavioural examples and learning from them that can be directly linked and applied to the workplace. Crucially, drama makes learning entertaining and therefore impactful.

Actors in Management: There are many adjectives that one can apply to drama-based work: participative, engaging, active, energising, challenging, illuminating, breaks expectations... But we would say that, wouldn't we! And these words can be applied to so much work from so many fields. Drama-based work is extremely effective. So many times we hear our clients say things like "this gets to the heart of the situation like nothing else", "we were able to work at a really deep level so much more quickly than with conventional training". Drama is a great translator. It turns theory into practice. It brings intellectual concepts to life, lets people practice new behaviours. The fundamental skill of a good actor is to understand motivation - why people do things, understanding situations from the other person's point of view. Marry this with an understanding of learning theory and training principles and you have a cracking methodology for helping people understand and change.

Barking Productions: Drama provides a different way of communicating training messages. It helps to break down barriers and draw people out of themselves. The process is experiential and we try to engage people on an emotional, behavioural basis. Drama can also provide a certain dynamism to training programmes which helps to compliment the theoretical side.

In what kind of circumstances do you think it can be used to best effect?

Barking Productions: The programmes which have most impact are those which help to shift cultural and behavioural norms. We have been involved in work which has helped to shift the perceptions and prejudices of large organisations, sometimes at senior level. Because we can be super-objective, we can act as a mouthpiece for companies and communicate the thoughts that individuals would not dare articulate. The same kind of powerful impact has been made with individuals. We have helped people to break through some difficult personal barriers and subsequent feedback has always been very positive.

Actors in Management: When working on Presentation Skills it's very effective to use theatre methods to get people out of the limitations and confines of their own limiting thought processes and self-inhibiting attitudes. Because we work holistically - voice, breathing, physical presence as well as content and structure - we see people unlock dormant abilities that surprise and delight them. Sometimes the difference is dramatic. One one occasion our participant re-awoke an energy and enthusiasm for communicating that she had not felt for years - it literally changed her life. That's very rewarding.
Working with people from the Department for Education and Employment (now DfES), we designed a series of workshops on the theme of Diversity to help people look closely at their working relationships within the Department in the wider context, and the way they work within their teams. We used Drama as the principle tool to unlock people's deeply-felt attitudes and resposes. We facilitated conversations to draw out the issues which had been brought to life in the dramas and focused people's energies on working together to find what areas of influence there were and what they could do as individuals and as a team to make positive changes. Our biggest challenge is to be able to equip the people we meet within organisations with what they need in order to be advocates inside their own organisations.

What kind of companies become your clients?

Steps: Small voluntary organisations, global investment banks, the NHS, local and central government. Essentially all sizes and all sectors.

Barking Productions: All kinds, from blue chip and public service organisations to medium and small companies. We have also worked for schools, charities and health professionals. We find a great deal of reward in the variety of work that we do. It helps keep us fresh.

Actors in Management: They tend to be large corporates, financial and outward-facing services.

Blue Beetle: Companies that have an imaginative approach to training, or want to broaden their variety of sessions they can offer their employees. Multinational, large blue-chip companies, working in insurance call centres, public services, hospitality and catering, automotive industry, education.

Do you ever encounter negative reactions to the idea of using drama?

Barking Productions: Very occasionally. The vast majority of our work is very well received.

Actors in Management: Yes. Many people in the training community feel threatened. They see drama-based practitioners as a bunch of all-singing, all-dancing entertainers without proper skills or processes. Others have no idea what DBT is all about. Because they see it all around them every day on television, soaps etc, they think anyone can do it. They can't. Not all actors, merely by definition, are suitable. It takes an understanding of the client and their needs and objectives and, in role play especially, the skill to be able to suspend the self in order the serve the needs of the other person, to create a framework so that the other person can exist and practice new skills and behaviours... Many people - actors and clients - are beguiled by large, unreal behaviour and reactions which may inspire awe and impress but which do not help with skills enhancement usually. Let's banish ignorance! HR practitioners, understand what services you are buying!

Blue Beetle: The worst we ever had was about a year ago when the "know-it-all" mentality of the section we worked with pervaded the session, and the delegates didnt really engage - even they however gave us "Good- Excellent" on the feedback sheets! Expectations are sometimes that because we are actors and use energisers we will be making the delegates really embarrassed - however they soon realise they are going to have a lot of fun.

Steps: Before our work – very rarely after it has been delivered.

Do you see drama becoming a standard technique in training?

Blue Beetle: I think in many ways it already is - the problem is that it is often presented badly by people who don't really know what they are doing. In the same way that double glazing is a great idea, but suffered from years of bad selling, I think that many peoples only experience of drama is a half-arsed energiser run by someone who's not sure what they're doing followed by some excrutiatingly embarrassing role play in which delegates have to stand up in front of their colleagues and humiliate themselves. Run properly, drama is able to make learning so much more brain friendly.

Steps: Very much so. It is very practical and applicable to a variety of learning needs. It is also a very flexible and dynamic approach, that can be adapted to different kinds of behavioural models and new approaches. Provided the approach is always ‘user-friendly’ (i.e.– that it doesn’t impose itself, but fits to the culture and approach of the client organisation) then it can go on being a more and more integrated part of the learning and development world. The danger for drama-based learning is that its’ practitioners will become blasé, and offer generalised solutions to very specific organisational concerns. One of our main concerns is for people using our work to work through the medium of drama – not have it imposed upon them. (For example - we never ask people to perform or role play anybody other than themselves). Inhibition and embarrassment puts a block on learning.

Barking Productions: Certainly more and more companies seem to want it and the value it adds, particularly in development programmes is becoming recognised as being a highly effective training solution.

All of these companies will be featuring in the Learning Arena section of the Exhibition Showcase at HRD 2002

Barking Productions
Blue Beetle
Actors in Management


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