Drama Therapy Performance Engages Audience Members in Challenging Systems of Oppression

 promotional image of Turbulence

NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Drama Therapy presents Turbulence, a production exploring the experiences of Black and People of Color (BPOC) in clinical settings and society at large from April 11-14. This piece of ‘performance activism’ engages audience members in shared dialogue with the aim of enhancing cultural awareness around BPOC identities and fostering social action.

Turbulence is set in an airport and follows the overlapping stories of different characters as they bump up against systems of oppression within the space. Moments that may appear mundane for some people—such as walking to the terminal gate or passing security checkpoints—are spotlighted to illustrate how experiences can differ based on an individual’s racial identity.

Audience members become passengers on the journey. They are asked to bring their own histories to the performance in an effort to collectively examine our current political and social moment and explore the possibilities of a more equitable future society, while bringing this vision forward into the world to create real change.

The performance was devised and co-written by BPOC creative arts therapists, applied theatre artists, and students in collaboration with playwright Daaimah Mubashshir through nine months of therapeutic rehearsals. Mubashshir and the group tracked the overarching themes that came up during sessions to create a piece that reflects the experiences of all participants and facilitates discussions on crucial issues—such as the importance of BPOC-specific spaces and the impact of history on society’s experience of race—with the audience.

Turbulence is part of Drama Therapy’s As Performance series which is embedded in the Theatre and Health Lab. The lab is the research hub of the Drama Therapy program studying how drama therapy and related theatre processes such as pretend play, storytelling, enactment, devising, and designing can improve psychological, physical, social, and public health outcomes.

The use of arts practices and arts therapies has been proven to support health and wellbeing while potentially reducing healthcare costs. Turbulence cast members said they were able to critically reflect on how they navigate traditionally White spaces and that the process allowed them to shape their own narratives around BPOC identities.

“I realized I was judging my own experiences through the lens of White society. But through this process, I experienced a crucial shift in how I see myself. I hope the audience will become more aware of their inherent privileges and biases, create space for critical reflection, and take action that continues to challenge their everyday assumptions,” said Si-Yeung Li, a participant and student in Steinhardt’s drama therapy program.

Britton Williams—an alumna of NYU’s Drama Therapy program and a licensed creative arts therapist—is serving as the director of Turbulence. She said her work as a practitioner helps her to guide and facilitate discussions on cultural humility and awareness.

“As a Black therapist, I am aware that the majority of the clients served in the spaces I have worked are BPOC—but the field is still predominantly white. As a clinician and a teacher, I’m often thinking about my responsibility in challenging systems of oppression embedded within the fields and the avenues I love—creative arts therapies, mental health work, teaching. There’s no way to do ethical work without thinking about these things,” said Williams.

Turbulence will be performed as part of the NYU Educational Theatre & Drama Therapy Forum 2019, a conference focusing on the intersection of theatre and health. The forum will be opened by Christopher Bailey from the World Health Organization and brings together practitioners, teachers, scholars, and performers to explore topics such as the impact of virtual reality on improving symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, how to address the opioid epidemic through theatre, healing the trauma of war through veteran-related Shakespearen texts, and more. For the full schedule, please visit the Steinhardt website.

Turbulence will be will be performed at the Provincetown Playhouse, 133 Macdougal Street, on Thursday, April 11 to Saturday, April 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 14 at 3 p.m. For tickets ($15 general, $5 for students and seniors), visit tickets.nyu.edu, call 212-998-4941, or visit the NYU Box Office in person at 566 LaGuardia Place.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.

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Sarah Binney
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