Drama therapy changed my impressions of homelessness | Tommy Waltz | TEDxDirigo

Drama therapy changed my impressions of homelessness | Tommy Waltz | TEDxDirigo


Translator: Maricene Crus
Reviewer: Denise RQ My initial impressions of homelessness
were shaped by one incident. I entered Preble Street Resource Center as a first-year
Master’s of Social Work student intern. I was wearing
my very green social worker badge practically proclaiming: “I am a fixer!” (Laughter) And so I put myself in the middle
of a very dangerous physical altercation between two men,
and I was nearly punched in the face. This led me to believe
that the homeless were unstable, violent and lost, and I, too, was feeling a little lost. In an effort to help me
reconnect with my work, my supervisor encouraged me to tap into
my theater history and create a group. At the time there were no active
groups at Resource Center and exposure to the creative arts
had been historically limited. I knew a group needed to be
approachable, fun and safe, so I figured improvisational theater
was the way to go. (Laughter) I called the group Off the Cuff, a space for all things crazy
and impulsive. and our first session met
on November 7, 2012. I facilitated movement through several improvisational activities
all with audience participation, and I myself stood up
and joined in the scene work to usher out any nervousness
from the participants. The feedback was extraordinarily positive, and I launched
weekly sessions of the group. The real life stories
of the individuals began to emerge, that is, the stories outside
of their homeless label. The homeless label, I argue, it is the heaviest weight
a person can carry in our society today. Homelessness is an all-consuming,
stigma-ridden label paralyzing those who are in it, so much so, they lose sight
of who they are, who they once were, and who they could ever hope to become. And we all have an idea
of what homelessness looks like. I know I did. After eight sessions I began to see
a real need for therapeutic intervention. I decided to introduce basic drama therapy practice
into the group, specifically the idea of creating a space for individuals to explore former roles
and explore new roles. And this experience
it’s shared with the audience who offers live feedback
and moral support. And suddenly the idea of actually playing out
these roles in real life becomes obtainable for the participants. Fast-forward to my second year
of graduate school, I was busy working on my thesis. I had one full year
of experience with Off the Cuff and in my research I realized
there were virtually no attempts to marry drama therapy
with the homeless experience. So, I set out to determine the usefulness
and helpfulness of drama therapy with the homeless population
in Portland, Maine. I conducted a qualitative field study
and I interviewed six active participants. After months of listening
to these interviews, I narrowed it
to seven experiential themes. Happiness, self-worth,
relationship building, mindfulness, honest expression,
creativity, and witness, which means seeing somebody
having an aha moment and understanding the possibility of having your own aha moment
and making your own change. Some clients’ quotes from the interviews: “The roles you play can teach you
how to do good stuff with your life. It makes our lives happier.” “It engages folks in here
to let folks out there know we are not all stereotypical. People have conceptions
about homeless that are not true.” Drama therapy proved to be both useful
and helpful to the homeless population. And, by the way, one of the participants I interviewed
was a man named John. John is the man
that nearly punched me in the face. John became the group’s greatest success and its biggest advocate. He empowered all members to find their own activity
and find their own healing. And I witnessed a truly compassionate and mindful man
emerge right before my eyes. My interview with John
took place in his apartment. John said: “Off the Cuff reminded me
of who I was, not just a homeless man.” He went on to say:
“I felt noticed for the first time.” And that alone
made me want to make change. In theater we talk a lot
about the fourth wall. It’s the invisible wall dividing
the audience from the actor. And as actors we were taught,
to effectively communicate life, you must keep the fourth wall in mind,
and never break it down. With Off the Cuff I not only broke down
the theatrical fourth wall, I also broke down
the Social Work fourth wall. I truly met the clients
where they were at, often in the depths
of confusion and despair. But I used their language,
I used their prompts, and I communicated with them
as one human being to another. And the results absolutely changed
my impression of homelessness. So now, I ask all of you: Have you ever felt stuck
in a role you felt was unjust? How did that feel? Have you broken free? Thank you. (Applause)

5 Replies to “Drama therapy changed my impressions of homelessness | Tommy Waltz | TEDxDirigo”

  1. This guy is full of shit, to many "I did" and "ME" this was all about him not the people he was "helping." Oh and you over act like a MOFO in this.

  2. Talking about drama therapy whilst being too damn dramatic… drum drum drum.. come here to see 😛 !!

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