Originally published in The Stage, February 2016
What does the term ‘applied theatre’ (or ‘applied drama’) mean? It’s a term you hear used with increasing regularity, and it refers to one of the most diverse sectors of theatremakers. Simply, applied theatre refers to theatre in an educational setting, work where the participants are not professionals, and often where drama is being used as a tool for means other than simply creating theatre – where drama becomes therapeutic or educational.
At some level, it is likely that any actor, director or writer working in theatre has come across applied theatre if they have worked on any educational or outreach project. During the New Labour years, there was increased funding for projects that came with tangible educational, therapeutic or social benefits. At one point it felt almost as if any theatre created had not only to be good, but also to prove that it would reduce knife crime in London at the same time.
The funding goal posts have moved considerably since then, but that doesn’t mean drama isn’t still being used in these ways.
It is one thing to run an hour-long workshop for young people in a school setting, and is likely to be something most actors could manage with only a little guidance. But more demanding projects, such as working with young offenders or using drama as a therapeutic tool, aren’t the sort of projects you can simply jump into. They require a very different skill set and training to that of an actor.