Dustin has almost thirty years of experience in theater, with credits in everything from producing and directing to acting and teaching. As a college and graduate student, he studied theater among many other subjects. He currently serves as the president of the Valparaiso Creative Council, is a member of the Indiana Arts Commission, and is a graduate of the Valparaiso Chamber Leadership Academy.
Why Dramatic Expression?
Dustin’s Dramatic Expression class is a mix of discussion, thinking through challenges in new ways, and theater games. Most patients respond very positively to his message and his methods.
Dustin says his class aims to do three things:
1. Make people feel uncomfortable [in a productive way!]
2. Experience joy and fun without substances
3. Challenge patients to decide why and how the class is helpful for them individually
The class is organized into four sessions – although they do not have to be taken in order, nor do patients need to start at the “beginning.” Each session has its own goals and outcomes. In the first session, for example, Dustin hopes students will improve four Emotional Skills:
1. Emotional Identification of one’s own feelings and those of others, and the clear expression of those emotions within oneself and with others.
2. Emotional Facilitation of Thought, which includes the potential of feelings to guide us to what is important. This includes the ability to incorporate feelings into analysis, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
3. Emotional Understanding, which involves learning to solve emotional problems. This includes the ability to identify and understand the inter-relationships between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
4. Emotional Management, which teaches patients to take responsibility for their own emotions and happiness, to turn negative emotions into positive learning and growing opportunities, and the ability to help others identify and benefit from emotions.
What Happens in Dramatic Expression class?
Dustin begins each class with a few quotations from dramatic works or authors which illustrate the relevancy of theater to “real life.” Recently, Dustin included a quote from the 1998 film, Shakespeare in Love. The conversation is between Philip Henslowe, owner of The Rose theater which is putting on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Hugh Fennyman, his creditor, curious about how the play will be successful (and how he’ll get paid.)
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of the insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.
Dustin explained that this quote is not simply a line from a movie. It is not simply an expression of how theater works. It illustrates a larger truth about life: we may not know how or why our struggles will resolve, but we must have faith that they will. That is not to say we do not have choices or responsibilities, but that, with a degree of faith, we can learn to make better decisions and better our lives.
Dustin also read The Rabbi’s Gift by M. Scott Peck to the class. It is a short parable about how honestly changing oneself without the need for outside validation can result in a profound change in the people around us and the society at large. As Dustin said, “When you change you for you, the people around you change.” This is a powerful message for those in recovery. They are learning to make positive changes with the goal of improving their own lives, yet, when they do this, the people around them often benefit and respond positively as well.
It's Time to Play!
After these discussions, patients engage in theater games designed to get their bodies moving, their reflexes firing more quickly, and their empathy skills engaged. A recent class included the games “Zip Zap Zop” and “Splat,” which required the patients to be observant and communicate without traditional language. “Leban's Qualities of Space/Time Movement” had patients practicing Mindfulness and emotional intelligence. The classic “Charades” encouraged creative expression and teamwork. These good-natured games build rapport, make everyone laugh, and are fun.
Dustin says in other classes, patients work on monologues from their disease's perspective and engage in psychodrama improvisation to face their inner monologues. They explore the actor Michael Checkhov’s methods and energy. They also play improvisation games modeled after Whose Line is it Anyway? Patients also do trust exercises, eye stares, emotional games, and mind tricks.
As Dustin says, these games are not always comfortable, but they are effective. They not only help patients learn about themselves, they encourage greater openness and trust and teach patients how to express their feelings. We are delighted to be able to offer this popular class at Parkdale Center. It’s an example of how we are always looking for innovative, creative ways to help our patients grow and thrive.