Drama-based training: Treading the training boards

Drama can be an effective training tool in certain learning situations. Just make sure you choose the right ones.

The ability of drama-based training to engage people in learning is leading more learning and development practitioners to incorporate this form of intervention in their training programmes.

Craig Simes, sales manager at CragRats, a company that has worked with supermarket chain Asda and the Post Office, claims that drama has been one of the fastest-growing learning media in recent years, with many companies using it instead of more intrusive methods.

“Organisations understand they need to be far more innovative about the training they provide. The days of role-play companies are numbered – because any training programme that reduces self-esteem is ineffective,” he says.

Drama techniques, if used appropriately, are ideal for experiential training, using the skills of an actor to foster trust, build collaboration and allow risk-taking. That’s the view of Joanne Swatkins, business development manager at Purple Monster, a company that uses role play. She says drama games and rehearsal techniques, rather than performance, are used to stimulate delegate thinking, challenge behaviours and encourage team playing.


At its simplest, drama-based training uses actors or theatrical techniques to illustrate a particular outcome. This approach can involve a relatively conventional presentation to a large group of people – such as on a health and safety catastrophe. Or it can involve more intimate groups of delegates using the Forum Theatre methods pioneered by Augusto Boal in the early 1970s.

The effectiveness of drama-based training lies in its ability to present short scenarios where the audience can relate to the situation and the build-up, says Simes. However, in addition to their dramatic prowess, he says most actors have exemplary communication skills. Swatkins says before a training day, Purple Monster actors often go into a workplace, carrying out the work or shadowing someone in a one-on-one capacity.

During the training, actors typically interact with delegates, ask them questions and give feedback.


Forum Theatre techniques involve presenting a scenario and then inviting the audience to direct the action. The actors will talk to different groups, who can stop and start scenes and look at alternative perspectives. Simes claims this method of interaction enables people to put the theory into practice, although he stresses that all the action is overseen by a facilitator.

According to Simon Thomson, director at Steps Drama Learning Development, the experiential aspect of drama-based training means it has a lasting effect on people.

He says it’s particularly effective in any training scenario that involves changes in behaviour, enabling delegates to look at challenging issues in a safe environment where it’s OK to get it wrong.

When shopping for a drama-based training specialist, Thomson advises any prospective client to “peel the onion” – viewing websites carefully, requesting references or case studies and viewing the approach in action. “We write fantastic proposals, but with experiential learning, you can’t beat getting a company in and going through the process. I would encourage people to see and sample what they’re buying. Any good company will be running seminars and this should make this easy.”

Case study: Rok

Building firm Rok employs 4,000 staff. Keen to reduce the cost of accidents – in both people and financial terms – and improve staff and community safety, its North West Division wanted to launch a new health and safety programme.

CragRats said it needed to tackle a blame culture so staff would feel they could report hazards or accidents without fear of reprisal. It devised a series of scripted scenarios backed up by facilitated workshops, coaching and discussion.

The scenarios were written in consultation with Rok, and the team also went out to sites and observed behaviours. The workshop sessions were designed to be a springboard for discussion, exploring the personalities, attitudes, behaviours and situations they experience at work, and guiding Rok’s employees towards making connections between their own behaviour, that of others and how they link to health and safety.

Some 30 training events reached 1,221 staff at various sites. The intervention, which received a 2007 National Training Award, reduced Rok’s accident frequency rate by 87%, it says.

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