Interactive Theatre: Drama as Social Intervention


  • John William Somers Department of Drama, University of Exeter


Interactive Theatre, social change


In the book Performing Communities, Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of US-based Cornerstone Theater Company, is quoted as saying:
You cannot predict what art changes. You’re naïve if you think you know you’re going to change the world with the art you create. It’s equally naïve and irresponsible even to acknowledge that art changes the world …
(Leonard and Kilkelly, 2006, p. 72)

Although I do not argue the impossibly extreme position that art1 can ‘change the world’ I disagree with the basic tenet behind Rauch’s comment. As a theatre-maker who for many years has created dramatic experience which has the express intention of bringing about change, I am convinced that, when shaped, targeted and delivered in particular ways, theatre and other forms of drama excite change. In order to achieve this, the dramatic intervention must consist of artistic output of the highest quality embedded in relevant pedagogic, sociological and dramatic approaches. The trick is to balance efficacy with artistic merit.

This article examines the theoretical underpinnings for this kind of drama and theatre and provides examples of this work in action.

Author Biography

John William Somers, Department of Drama, University of Exeter

John Somers is a Honorary University Fellow at University of Exeter. He is also the founder Editor of the journal Research in Drama Education, Founder Director of the Exeter international conference Researching Drama and Theatre in Education, and is Artistic Director of Exstream Theatre Company and Tale Valley Community Theatre. Exstream has been nominated for the 2007 Queen's Anniversary Prize. Together with collaborators, he has gained funding of around £250,000 to tour interactive theatre focusing on bioethics and mental health. The latter programme won the NIMHE Positive Practice award in 2005. He founded an MA Applied Drama at Exeter in 1999.
He is the 2003 recipient of the American Alliance of Theatre and Education Lin Wright Special Recognition Award. He has published widely and frequently works internationally, most recently in Poland, Finland, Taiwan and Turkey.