Theater is uniquely suited to promote well-being by nurturing the development of vital life tools such as resilience, self-trust, connection and freedom to play.
Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress….It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Cultivating resilience helps us lead fulfilling and healthy lives even when life is challenging and painful.
The American Psychological Association describes 10 ways to build resilience. We practice each of these ten ways when we make theater:
1. Make connection—Connecting with other people is affirming, a helpful reminder that we are valued and that we can handle the challenges that come our way. Connecting with others creates a supportive community that can help us face these challenges. Theater is a collaborative and communal art. Human connection between the performers and between the performer and audience is the skeleton that supports the story. Improv especially helps us connect with others. Improv requires us to be fully aware which causes deep connections to form between participants. They regularly report feeling truly seen and appreciated and form friendships that extend outside the class.
2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable—Theater-making is a series of challenges that we work through together. The process helps us practice seeing problems, even a broken-beyond-repair set on opening night as a challenge to meet rather than a stumbling block. Theater teaches us that mistakes can turn into treasures, that challenges can be worked through. In improv this problem solving happens in the moment on stage. Improv teaches us that working through problems is normal and not to be ashamed of or hidden.
3. Accept that change is a part of life— Theater helps us be comfortable with changes in our plans. As a live art form, no rehearsal or performance ever goes exactly the same, or even to plan. Improv especially helps performer practice accepting change.
4. Move toward goals—While we believe that the process is the heart of what we do, the process has meaning because of the goals we share. In theater-making we work together towards the shared goal of a performance. In our education programs, we design our curriculum to support the process of setting, working toward, and reflecting upon personal goals.
5. Take decisive action—Challenges can feel overwhelming. Simply remembering our agency to make a choice can make all the difference. At Verge, we create an entire world of a story in our tiny black box. This transformation happens because artists take action and create. In improv, performs find a supportive environment to practice making decisive choices.
6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery—When you trust your creative ideas, you learn about how your brain works, about your strengths and growing edges, and about your identity. By pretending to be someone else, we learn about ourselves.
7. Nurture a positive view of oneself—In theater, we move and inspire others through the art with share. We feel proud when we bring joy or insight to others. In theater, we grow by facing new challenges. We like ourselves when we can learn something new.
8. Keep things in perspective—Sometimes theater fails. You get bad reviews. The flat falls over in the middle of Act 2. An improv scene bombs and no one lasts. Failing can be hard. But theater gives us a chance to fail while keeping the big picture in mind; failing once doesn’t mean failing forever.
9. Take care of yourself—Theater provides a space for people to grow and play. Improv in particular helps people make time for play and laughter. For those who struggle with meditation or more contemplative practice, improv can be ideal self-care.
10. Maintain a hopeful outlook—Every play and every improv scene starts with the belief that we can make something special out of an empty space. Theater reminds us that we already have many of the tools we need to be successful.
Participating in theater, especially when the focus is on the creative process, we have the opportunity to develop and practice all of these skills.
Opportunities for play are especially important to us at Verge Theater. Research clearly shows the importance of play in brain development and childhood learning. Play is equally important for adults. Play helps us maintain social well-being and decompress, and research suggests it helps keep our brains sharp as we age. In this way, Verge improv provides an invaluable entry point to self-care and wellness. Spaces for adults to play are limited. As children become more highly scheduled and our schools become more standards-focused, they too have less opportunity for genuine play. Theater can help everyone make time for play.
The APA’s Road to Resilience
Suggested reading from the National Association for the Education of Young Children