What on earth is ‘Theatre-led Learning’?

Posted by Sean Worrall
21 Oct

Innovative approaches to learning & development.

 

In the first few minutes of a recent ‘Influencing Skills’ workshop, I invited a lady to stand up and tell a short story about her business unit’s go-to-market strategy. Let’s call her Zhang Min. The client is a global organisation, and the participants are senior VPs who had flown in from various parts of the Asia region. Mostly men. When Zhang Min finished her story, half the room spontaneously stood to applaud her. She nailed it!

“That’s one of the best characterisations of our business that I’ve ever heard” said one guy, “how long have you been with us?”

“I don’t actually work for you,” she said, “I’m an actor. But I understand what you guys do, so I practiced that for an hour before you all arrived.” 

You could have heard a pin drop!

The impact? We had successfully grabbed their attention and given them a reason to want to explore – and practice – a valuable new skill-set. Which, as every good learning facilitator knows, is the prerequisite state of readiness for active learning.

At Dramatic Difference we specialise in Executive Coaching, Facilitation, Theatre-led Learning. When I hand over my business card the #1 question I get asked is: “What on earth is theatre-led learning?”. I’ll skip the pedagogy-speak and say, simply, that it’s a highly effective way to simultaneously activate thinking and feeling and doing. It builds ‘muscle memory’ fast, and it’s more fun and interactive than many other approaches to learning design. 

For example, most people nowadays are familiar with Roleplay exercises. We use this technique, but not so much. Many participants find it awkward to ‘pretend’. Rather, we prefer a technique called Realplay: we don’t want you to act, but to be yourself. Our professional corporate actors do the acting, and often participants are not even aware that we’re not real clients or colleagues or candidates, etc. It’s a challenging – but safe! – environment that allows us to observe you closely, and provide structured and immediately actionable feedback to support your personal and professional growth. 

This takes a lot of skill, of course. Our unique talent pool is made up of professionally trained actors who also have a wealth of business and leadership experience. A rare mix! 

Another tool that we use extensively is the Forum Theatre method. This involves two or more actors improvising scenes that reflect real-life interactions in the workplace. Then we take questions and suggestions from the ‘audience’ about their observations of the characters’ behaviour and attitude, and re-play the scenes to test out those suggestions to find what works, and tweak what doesn’t. Gradually, the participants step into our roles, as we step out and become satisfied observers of their transformational change. 

We use Forum Theatre to great effect on the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) agenda of client organisations. Often in combination with Unconscious Bias frameworks. Since bias is most often expressed…well, unconsciously(!), it’s not easy for any of us to self-identify our blind spots. But we can all readily see such biases when they’re displayed by other people. So, metaphorically, we hold up a mirror to those attitudes and behaviours when we play out Forum Theatre scenes. The most common initial reaction is raucous laughter and blushing “OMG that looks just like my team!”. Of course it does: because we have researched how real people behave, and written your forum theatre to reflect that. And we have rehearsed our performances, and considered the motivations driving that behaviour. As actors, this is exactly how we prepare to live inside a fictional character when we appear on stage or screen. 

When we use Forum Theatre, we are fearless in addressing the real-life challenges that organisations face; we voice issues that some participants feel inhibited to raise in a traditionally facilitated intervention. Second, we surface those issues very quickly so that we can get down to the real work of fixing them. Third, our in-the-moment feedback – both in character, and as experts in emotional and physical self-expression – rapidly addresses your performance and development challenges. And significantly reduces the amount of time that participants need to spend away from their day-to-day work! Theatre-led Learning turbo-charges your L&D dollars and boosts your ROI.  

One global head of L&D at a client of ours recently told me, “There’s just no comparison between what you guys do, and what we used to do. The learning really sticks now.” That’s because we are actors who train, not a “trainer in a wig”. We support our theatre-led work with expertise in executive coaching and process facilitation. This is a highly effective combo to develop the type of high performance people that modern organisations are crying out for. 

Ask us about Theatre-led Learning techniques that can be applied to your particular developmental goals. We know how to flex these experiential and kinaesthetic techniques to deliver successful outcomes across a variety of vital competences. We have deployed our skills on a range of modern workplace challenges including: resolving conflict; cross-cultural and inter-generational communication; coaching skills clinics; consultative selling and negotiation; cohesive team dynamics; strengths-based development; unconscious bias; diversity and inclusion; executive presence & storytelling; difficult conversations; recruitment and selection; feedback and performance management; media training and much more. 

We enjoy imagining what else on earth Theatre-led Learning could do for you so, if you enjoy a curious conversation, ask us about other techniques such as Improv, Hotseating, Playback, Theatre Games, and Vocal & Physical workshopping.

 

Sean Worrall seanw@www.dramdiff.com

Dramatic Difference is a boutique learning and development consultancy, working across the Asia-Pacific and EMEA regions from our twin HQs in Singapore and Hong Kong. We have actors in-country in: Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Dubai, Korea, Japan Australia, UK.