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Theatre workshops transforming lives by addressing trauma among veterans

Oct 15, 2020


Image caption: Theatre for Change directors Paulo Castro and Jo Stone. (Photo by Brenton Edwards Photography/Newspix).

Arts and creativity can save expenditure and provide returns on investment across health services and social care, helping meet pressing challenges to our nation’s health and wellbeing. The arts have been shown to improve quality of life in myriad ways, including increasing mental wellbeing;(1) decreasing anxiety and depression; increasing social inclusion;(2) and treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and helping communities recover from trauma. 3

Inspired by the work of PTSD researcher and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, Theatre for Change is a national first program that supports returned armed service veterans and emergency service personnel to cope with their experiences through theatre workshops with lived experience peers. Held in late 2019 at the Repat Health Site in Adelaide, and led by two of the state’s most experienced performers, Jo Stone and Paulo Castro, the workshops targeted veterans no longer able to work in their chosen field due to injury or illness or those experiencing isolation, depression and anxiety.

Within a safe and supported environment, the program taught skills ranging from writing, acting and directing, to production. It provided a creative outlet that gave participants an opportunity to express themselves in alternative ways when they might find communicating difficult and explore different personas and modes of behaviour. 4()

One participant said she felt a ‘deep separation’ from those around her when she returned from service in Iraq and that the chance to express troubling experiences through drama was incredibly rewarding: ‘I’ve been able to express deeply held thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are not easily explained in any other context… I come away with this sense of relief.’ Described as a ‘therapeutic process,’ the program has helped participants reduce isolation, increase social networks and reclaim their self-worth and purpose. (5)

Theatre for Change is an initiative of National Partnership Organisation the State Theatre Company South Australia, and The Road Home, a veterans and emergency services charity of The Hospital Research Foundation, with support from the SA Health Office for Ageing Well. It demonstrates the value of cross-portfolio investment in arts and creativity and the transformative power of arts and creativity in Australians’ lives.

    1. Davies et al. 2015, ‘The art of being mentally healthy: a study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population.’ BMC Public Health (16)15.
    2. First reported in: Slawson N 2017, ‘It’s time to recognise the contribution arts can make to health and wellbeing,’ The Guardian, 11 October 2017.
    3. Baker et al. 2017, ‘A systematic review of the efficacy of creative arts therapies in the treatment of adults with PTSD,’ Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 10(6), 643–651, 2018.
    4. See:
    5. James P 2019, ‘Drama workshops help SA veterans combat trauma from the theatre of war,’ The Messenger South, December 11 2019.

Learn more about the Annual Report 2019-20.