May 2, 2010
Twenty five students, barefoot in tee-shirts and sweatpants, spread out around the black and white cinderblock dance room, clumping into five small groups. Their common theme of anger inspired controversial topics of domestic violence, murder and the death penalty. The freshman class twisted their bodies, some helplessly on the floor, others reigning powerfully from on top of chairs. These living statues radiated emotions such as grief, suffering and betrayal.

Ms. Harrison’s Voice and Movement class was reaching a catharsis--or an emotional release, one of the most important things to create a successful play. Many actors call the road to the catharsis the most rewarding and therapeutic aspect of theatre.

“Our culture is not one that looks favorably on excessive emotion and although we approve of forward and frank discussion and every stated opinion, we are often old that certain emotional states should be kept to oneself, for the sake of courtesy and social stability. Acting allows you to channel these pent up emotions towards a release, which is why acting can be so therapeutic,” Mr. McTiernan, English teacher and DA theatre alumni.

Individuals who lived though events like the ones portrayed in Ms. Harrison’s class turn to theatre groups like the Creative Alternatives in New York for a therapeutic outlet.

“Creative Alternatives allows them to look inside themselves within and process feelings and emotions they do not face in counseling but are able to do through creative expression,” said David Benito, assistant manager.

Theatre helps many actors to gain a better understanding of themselves and others through the crucial period of developing a character.

“The best part of theatre to me is researching the roles.. and then digging deep within yourself to find the strength and courage to explore the different parts of humanity, including some very dark parts to gain a better understanding of your character,” Shelly Hughes, Jewish Community Alliance Theatre Director, says “It makes us all a little more tolerant and understanding of others.”

The therapeutic effects of theatre reach far beyond just the actors. In a performance that the actors have given themselves to, the audience reaps the benefits as well.

“An audience is supposed to connect to those characters, recognize themselves (or their foils) in those characters, and feel for those characters,” says McTiernan “An effective theatre production is one in which you leave feeling that something inside you has been moved, some part of your life has been touched, and what you have seen on stage was not only emotional but true.”

The simplest form of therapeutic theatre is in children willing to escape their mundane lives. This emotion that instills in children often carries with them into adulthood and manifests itself as a need to act.

“Children play dress up to escape, adults act,” McTiernan said.

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