For many people - including children - the word 'drama' fills them with terror. Embarrassing memories abound and fear of humiliation lingers. However, the true nature of drama and theatre could not be further from this terror.
The essence of drama centres upon the concept of 'shared experience' - the feeling of being part of a group, connected by a central context, and interacting positively with others. Although its worth as a learning process is only now being fully recognised, drama methods have been used for years as a means to explore, understand, assess and develop. Skilled - and sensitive - drama practitioners use drama to explore subjects and issues, build self-confidence, increase self-awareness, develop social and interactive skills and improve communication and negotiation skills. Drama often manages to address all of these objectives at once. Drama as a shared process of communication is a positive and productive learning tool.
Theatre arises as a product of the drama process and drama becomes theatre when the process becomes performance. The two tend to merge and boundaries are often blurred as drama work often contains an element of theatre - and theatre always contains drama! For theatre and drama to work effectively, the product needs to be a separate entity and there should be a clear demarcation between the 'performance' that is theatre and the 'experience' that is drama. Theatre also exists when an audience observes and responds to the product being revealed.
For example, the play Romeo and Juliet is performed as a piece of theatre, as a product arising from rehearsals, but the themes and issues within the play form the basis of drama work. Before rehearsals on the 'product' begin, drama methods can be used to explore such issues as: family relationships; jealousy; teenage love; gang rivalry; parental control; communication breakdowns; conflict, and so on. All of these elements are inherently present within the play text, but it is not theatre which is used to explore them - it's drama.
As adults, we have all spent a great deal of our lives involved in drama or theatre: the action rhymes and songs we took part in at nursery school; the games we played as children; the elaborate 'performances' we gave to our parents and teachers as teenagers; the roles we play at work and at home. Our basic need is to communicate, to connect with others, and drama forms the foundation of that need. Theatre continues to inform our behaviour in the work place: role-playing, presenting an image and improvisation are second nature to us. Drama and theatre are inexorably intertwined with how we live our lives and how we relate to other people; structured drama and theatre applications recognise this - and build on it.