-by Judy Holstein
The North American Drama Therapy Association celebrated its 40th anniversary at its annual conference, held in Philadelphia. The 450 attendees included pioneers who founded the association, long-time practitioners of drama therapy and related creative arts therapies, and faculty and students of the accredited and alternative drama therapy graduate training programs, many who are in training and new to the profession, as well as allied professionals.
This year’s conference was about “celebrating how far we have come and setting intentions for our future,” a celebration of Drama Therapy through yesterday, today and tomorrow. The conference upheld the diversity and creativity of not only the membership, but also those who drama therapists serve.
An opening ceremony featured the Living Arts Playback Theater Ensemble of San Francisco Bay area, directed by Armand Volkas. Founding NADTA member David Read Johnson told his story of accepting the challenge to create a professional association from Gert Shatner in 1979. The Playback ensemble recreated his story with music, movement and imagery to accompany brilliantly improvised speech. The conference was off to an inspired start.
Workshops addressed collaborative experiences between drama therapists and allied professionals; didactic and experiential education; family friendly sessions suitable for drama therapists and their families; research; and newcomer workshops for emerging clinicians. In addition, 27 poster presentations reflected research and practice of drama therapy for self-advocacy; behavior supports; transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals; children’s hospitalization; barrier-free theater; healing school communities; long-term care settings; adolescents and self-revelatory story; substance-use recovery; acute treatment settings; aphasia recovery and many more. The Cultural Humility, Equity and Diversity Committee presented “Against the Grain: 40 Years of Anti-Oppression and Social Justice work through Performance and Activism. In this unique presentation, all conference attendees journeyed with the cast of “Turbulence” to experience first-hand, life from the perspective of minorities.
Awards were presented to new Registered Drama Therapists (RDT) and new Board–Certified Therapists (BCT) at the Ruby Red President’s Ball, hosted by NADTA president Laura Wood. Evening performances included documentary films: “Nobody’s Perfect”, A Theatrical Exploration of Mental Health; “Witness Theater”, that brings together high school students and Holocaust survivors; and the film “You Arrive”; a Theater For Change production that confronts sexual harassment and assault; “Pray the Gray Away”, a musical that addresses the need for healing in black churches. Additional performances included “2 Women, 2 Stories”, the transitions women go through as they move into middle age, and another performance of stories and scenes dealing with “before, during and after 40;” and “Feast of the Famished”, a play that explores complex themes of chosen families, identity, intergenerational trauma and cultural expectations.
The conference concluded in an experiential workshop to envision and embody a future: The next 40 years of NADTA.