NADTA February Member Spotlight

It is with great pleasure that we announce a new member benefit: Member Spotlight. Each month, you will be introduced to a member of the NADTA and be able to read about their experiences, interests, and special projects.  By spotlighting our members, we hope to shed light on the rich diversity of our membership and on the wide array of contexts in which drama therapists work.


Please tell us about your current work and projects:

Drama for Life is a unique international programme based at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Its ethos is founded in a firm belief that drama can enhance social transformation through dialogue. The programme offers a range of postgraduate degrees, including Drama Therapy Honours and Masters' qualifications that have been approved by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Drama for Life at Wits is the only university programme in Africa that offers specialised degrees in Drama Therapy and Applied Drama: Theatre in Education, Communities and Social Contexts. I launched Drama for Life as founding Director in 2008 at Wits with substantial funding support from the Federal Republic of Germany. Our staff from 2013 will consist of three Drama Therapists, several Applied Drama and Educational Drama teachers and academics. Our future performance as a meaningful contributor toward the international Drama Therapy community will be largely based on our relationship with organizations like NADTA.

Drama for Life has been built on the premise of acknowledging the historical relationship in the West between Educational Drama and Drama Therapy, and the historical relationship between Theatre for Development, Theatre of the Oppressed and Theatre-Making in Africa. Together with this complex history, Drama for Life is also attempting to bridge the scholarship, practices and training of Drama Therapy found in the USA and the UK. It is important to note that the large majority of the 14 qualified and registered South African Drama Therapists have been trained in the UK's Sesame Programme at Central School of Drama, University of London. Another complex and important challenge is for Drama for Life to weave a constant and meaningful dialogue between Drama Therapy, as conceived and practiced by the West, with the historical, breath taking breadth and depth of traditional African healing knowledge systems and practices. It is for this reason that we have developed an integrated programme that tackles the great psycho-social health, cultural and political challenges on our continent. Core to our training is the critical, in-depth engagement with HIV/AIDS, Human Rights and Social Justice, Diversity and Conflict Management, and Environmental Sustainability. This is taught through an interdisciplinary engagement with anthropology, psychology, social work, sociology, communication health, and education. Drama Therapy is used as the means through which the material, issues and processes are explored. The work, in other words, is taught within the realm of praxis - the object/subject relationship is challenged and subverted; the education is both political and personal.

What led you to Drama Therapy?:

A combination of experiences, situations and people brought me into the realm of Drama Therapy. In the early 1990's there were no Drama Therapists in South Africa. Drama Therapy was an almost complete unknown, and Drama Therapy wasn't recognised as a clinical form of psychotherapy by the then South African Medical Council. I had worked in the 1980's and early 1990's in theatre, drama in education and community-based drama. My postgraduate studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT) had thrown me into the depths of role and play studies, particularly in the context of Educational Drama, or what Ceciley O'Neill calls Process Drama. The work of Peter Slade, Gavin Bolton, Dorothy Heathcote, John O'Toole, Joseph Moreno, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, Barney Simon, Mavis Taylor, Athol Fugard, John Kani, Gay Morris and Liz van Breda were some of my influences. These influences have stood the test of time and form an integral part of how we teach Drama Therapy, Applied Drama and Educational Drama in Africa in the Drama for Life programme.

My work in the late 1980's and early 1990's with Joan Brokensha in Sand Play Therapy had a huge impact on my own emerging understanding of the potential power of drama and play as therapeutic media. This was supported by my participation in Barbara Fairhead's LifeSpace Game facilitated by both Barbara Fairhead and Joan Brokensha. This extraordinary, original creative arts therapies game with its routes in Jungian Therapy and Findhorn's Transformation Game was the beginning of my genuine enthusiasm and belief in the power of Drama Therapy. Barbara Fairhead and Joan Brokensha have now given me the rights to run the game from 2013 as part of our training in the Drama for Life programme.

In the early 1990's the emerging field of Drama Therapy in the international arena was only beginning to touch our shores. The work in role and play studies, and my own personal explorations with Sand Play Therapy and The LifeSpace Game brought me closer to the defining principles and practices that constitutes the kind of drama that enhances intrapersonal and interpersonal change. In 1993, while I was an academic staff member at UCT, I was invited by a leading adolescent and young adult psychiatrist, Dr Ray Berard, to work alongside his clinical team. He understood that drama could play a critical role in milieu therapy, and that drama could access large groups of culturally diverse and alienated adolescents who were living with the impact of psycho-social trauma. My work at UCT's William Slater Psychiatric Centre for Adolescents and Young Adults stood as an outstanding introduction to clinical milieu therapy. I was extremely fortunate to work with some of the best clinicians, from social workers, psychologists, clinical nurses, psychiatrists and education psychologists in adolescent and young adult psychiatry in South Africa, and I was given the space to develop research in the use of drama as a therapeutic medium. It was this introduction to research in Drama Therapy that woke me up to the developments in the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK). The understanding of milieu therapy has, in turn, influenced the way we have structured our community-based pedagogy in Drama for Life.

In the 1980's and early 1990's I was also working in professional theatre and performance training at UCT as a director. I was particularly drawn to theatre-making processes that could capture the reality of our complex, deeply traumatised country. It was an urgent time in South Africa's history. We were on the brink of an overt, violent civil war. But there was also an extraordinary social change movement that was instrumental in building a culture of negotiation that lead to our constitutional democracy. Theatre, in my view, should be a rite of passage for both audience and performer. I was exploring how theatre could move people; engage people in what it means to be human; give people the space to feel and reflect upon a reality that was deeply painful and conflicted; speak back to people in safe ways through symbolic mythology. My theatre work brought me into intimate contact with a wide range of South African people and their realities, testing the boundaries of freedom in a country fighting a treacherous fascist system, and grounding me in a complex social discourse.

My teaching and directing experience in the Republic of Botswana in 1989 to 1990 served as the bedrock of pedagogical influences that I forged in the 1990's. Botswana was a place that saved me from the Apartheid military and that taught me the true meaning of liberation. I had the opportunity to work in a truly unique and internationally acclaimed secondary independent school representative of over 40 different nationalities. Rooted in Botswana, Africa, Maru-a-Pula is a progressive educational secondary school that has become renowned for its graduates being well rounded, intelligent, creative and socially competent and responsible young people who have gone onto Harvard, Stanford, Williams College, UCT, Wits and many more prestigious tertiary institutions. It was the remarkable combination of a broad progressive curriculum, a social responsibility programme, a cross-cultural ethos, with arts as an essential part of the menu that inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day.

South Africa still faces a critical crisis in its education system. I continue to look toward Maru-a-Pula for my inspiration. And I still believe that drama should be a necessary, integrated and compulsory part of every child and young adolescents' education for the obvious reasons of shaping a healthy and strong intrapersonal self, and for developing a meaningful interpersonal set of skills and a sense of self and community. Drama's metaphorical process engages with what Thomas Moore calls 'the education of the soul'. It is what we desperately need across the world today: a revolution in education. A creative revolution in education, says Ken Robinson, is the only way we will begin to help future generations begin to deal with some of the most complex challenges the globe has ever had to confront. It is my belief that Educational Drama with the support of Drama Therapy could play a critical role in this revolution.

How did being chosen as a Fullbright Scholar and your training as a Drama Therapist at New York University impact your work?

It was my work at Maru-a-Pula, William Slater Psychiatric Centre, theatre directing and the University of Cape Town that I believe led to my being awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in 1995. The Fulbright was a truly unique honour. It was a gift that I will always treasure. I am deeply grateful to the USA for this incredible opportunity that opened my world to the pioneering work in Drama Therapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry, Performance Studies and education in the USA. The Fulbright sent me to New York University's acclaimed Drama Therapy programme.

There were two major influences that emerged from the Fulbright that have impacted Drama Therapy's introduction in Africa. The very way the Fulbright is organised, its pedagogical ethos and principles, have been a guiding influence in the Drama for Life programme at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and the Fulbright's mentorship and expectation upon me as a leader in my field back home prepared me for what I would encounter and have to deal with upon my return to South Africa in 1999.

The deeply enriching time in the USA challenged, nurtured and prepared me for the incredibly difficult work conditions I would have to engage as a full-time clinician in South Africa. The influences are many, profound, and gave me the chance to begin to vision what would be possible back home. Robert Landy's gentle, insightful, and open guidance gave me the foundation to reach out and explore every possible avenue in the world of Drama Therapy in the USA. His Role Theory was an obvious inspiration, providing my existing work with a new context with creative and therapeutic possibilities. There is much that I would like to write about role, Role Theory and South Africa. We are a people in deep transition, and that transition is best understood, I believe, through a fine understanding of the way roles have had to change, be re-imagined and re-constructed. The problem with a transition such as ours is that roles have been inscribed through pervasive psycho-social trauma. Roles have become fixed, encoded, re-traumatising. There is a poverty of imagination with regard to roles that could be played. David Read Johnson's Development Transformations helps us better understand how to engage with these roles within a context of trauma. And Rene Emunah's Five Stage Model reminds us of how important it is to understand the developmental stages of health, psychological growth in relation to the language of drama. In a country where many people have never had the chance to play in genuine and unconditional ways, the Five Stage Model helps root the work in psycho-educational contexts.

How have self-examination and supervision guided your work?

My own unravelling, processing and re-imaging of who I could be as a Drama Therapist both personally and professionally in my training at New York University was beautifully facilitated and supported by Darby Moore, Maria Scaros Mercardo and Maria Hodermarska. Their modelling as therapists, their willingness to witness and their maturity as pioneers propelled me into interior spaces that needed mediation, nurturing and compassionate work.

Central to our pedagogical approach and curriculum at Drama for Life is the conceptualisation and practice of supervision. Supervision is the only way we believe that Drama Therapists will learn how best to sustain and innovate their work in Africa. Supervision is that liminal space between the clinical work, the institution and the social reality, the personal and the professional. It is a reflective space that brings together theory and practice, a genuine marriage of the two into praxis; where soul nudges us into consciousness; a place where mindfulness can be cultivated; and where the pioneer, for all Drama Therapy work is by action the journey of the pioneer into the unknown, is able to replenish in order to sustain the work ethically.

What other influences, outside of Drama Therapy, have been intregal to your work?

There were many other people who influenced the way I have shaped my work in the last decade. I am deeply grateful to all the people I came to know and who left their inscriptions upon my soul. There were some people who stood outside the Drama Therapy communities I met, but who have had a lasting impact on the way I think and engage with teaching, therapy, and theatre directing. These thinkers and practitioners have made me re-examine what it is we mean by Drama Therapy. Richard Schechner's astounding wisdom, experience and guidance as a teacher, indirectly, helped me grapple with the boundaries of performance and therapy. He helped me better understand the spaces of transgression, transition and transformation in and through drama. In a country where roles are constantly being challenged; where transgression has become the cultural order of the day; where transformation is a much sought after and contested ideal, I have had to pay conscious attention to the processes that require transgression and the processes that require transformation. I have had to grapple with great unease when to compromise ethical practises that may be relevant in the USA, but that may need to be re-framed in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

The refined work of the Institute of Sociometry and Psychodrama in New York, under the leadership of Robert and Jacqueline Seroka, together with Tian Dayton served as another critical foundation to my work as a clinician. The classical model taught by the Seroka's that pays particular attention to the psycho-social terrain of group psychotherapy gave me the grounding for clinical work that was vital and necessary in South Africa on my return. I focused on addictions and trauma. Dealing with trauma and addiction, particularly in a South African context, requires a particular landscape that doesn't lead to the re-traumatising of the group. Sociometry forms an integral part of our Critical Reflexive Praxis in Drama Therapy course's pedagogy in the Drama for Life programme. It serves as a means toward a mindful form of group co-supervision.

The beautiful, detailed process of community witnessing through story-telling and improvisatory performance in the form of Playback Theatre as taught by Jonathan Fox played a small, but vital part in my education in the USA. Playback Theatre has subsequently become an integral part of Drama for Life. We have our own, and the only African, DFL Playback Theatre Company. Playback theatre is used as a critical form of supervision and teaching at significant moments in the Drama for Life programme. Our partnership with Jonathan Fox and his Centre for Playback Theatre has seen him visit Wits and send out another trainer from the USA.

Please share how you have held social justice and drama therapy in your work:

When I completed my studies at New York University in 1997, I was given permission by the Fulbright to work in the USA for an additional two years as further training. I was given the opportunity to work as a Drama Therapist in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Programme at Interfaith Medical Centre in Acute Psychiatry for Dual Diagnosis. Working in an intensive unit with a multi-disciplinary team with a population that is largely rendered invisible in the USA brought me back to some of the realities I would face in South Africa. The challenge of grappling with addition and alcoholism alongside other serious Axis 1 psychiatric illnesses in an environment that didn't have all the support systems and resources that other facilities in more middle-class and affluent areas in the USA served as a solid clinical foundation training. What I wasn't prepared for was the fact that South Africa's government mental health system was going to be far more challenging. It would challenge all the boundaries of ethics taught to me in the USA. Nefretete Rashaad was an exemplary supervisor; a guide in a world that I was still negotiating; a professional and individual who understood the depth of frustration and rage I experienced when a system was so faulty it rendered treatment as an injustice. The Drama for Life programme has had to re-imagine how best to create internship spaces in order to not traumatise our students. South African health facilities are often places of dysfunction to the extent that their shadow role becomes one of re-traumatising the caregivers. We don't want this to happen. But we have to teach our students that they will have to be self-sufficient in order to begin to make meaningful interventions.

What are your goals and hopes for the future of Drama Therapy and Drama for Life?

Drama for Life's success has been built on a number of sound, meaningful partnerships. With the formal introduction to Drama Therapy, I would like to see strong partnerships being forged with New York University and CIIS. Drama for Life is in the process of forming an all Africa association that will help represent and protect the rights of all future Drama Therapists and Applied Drama Facilitators and Drama Educators. It would make enormous sense for NADTA and DFL to begin exploring how best to support each other through more formal partnerships and memberships.

In a world of inexplicable challenges, Drama Therapy has the potential to become an even more powerful tool for collective and individual dialogue about what transformed societies may entail. Our job is to ensure that we can effectively communicate and demonstrate how Drama Therapy can play this significant role. We need to ensure that Drama Therapy doesn't become relegated to the realm of the private, hidden, individual experience. Spaces for private reflection are important. But the world's challenges will be met through our ability to relate, negotiate and implement decisions together. Drama teaches us that we cannot do this alone; drama's power is in its social dialogic and symbolic processes; drama with therapy makes for an effective reflective process for sustainable social change.

Warren Nebe, MA, MA, RDT, HPCSA

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