Trauma-based theater impacts kids at risk

By Eileen Weber
October 2nd, 2021
Valerie Krpata, ReScripted’s co-founder and co-director.
Valerie Krpata, ReScripted’s co-founder and co-director.

Sports, art, dance—these kinds of activities have always been enriching for school-aged children. But for some kids, theater is their best bet and there’s data to back that up. A research article published in the “Journal of Thinking Skills and Creativity” in March 2020 pinpointed the benefits of improvisational theater as a psychosocial and emotional tool for both children and adults.

The article surmised that improvisational theater is “linked to a variety of psychological benefits, such as reductions in anxiety and depression in adult psychiatric patients and in social anxiety among adolescent public-school students.”

In addition, the report noted that theater enhances psychological health without the “negative stigma,” surrounding other therapeutic options.

There’s probably no other organization that agrees with that viewpoint more than the Justice Resource Institute, Inc., (JRI) in Needham, Mass. Under the umbrella of JRI comes the Center for Trauma and Embodiment. Within that center are three separate programs: Trauma Centered Yoga, Trauma Centered Weightlifting, and Rescripted, a module-based intervention program focused on the power of play through theater and movement for children and teens.

A few years ago, JRI worked with Urban Improv, a program affiliated with Rehearsal for Life, for a child and teen-oriented theater program for those kids exposed to violence. After a difference of opinion on how the program should continue to run, the two organizations decided to part ways.

“Part of the power of this program is the power of play. These kids have been in survival mode and they’ve had no play, no joy, early on in their lives.” -- Valerie Krpata, co-founder and co-director, ReScripted

That parting resulted in the birth of ReScripted, JRI’s take on using theater as a way to engage at-risk children. This past summer, the pilot program took off. During eight weeks from June through August, an average of about six adolescents aged 16 to 22 from JRI’s GRIP Group Home in Lowell participated every Monday for one hour in the late afternoon.

All of the kids were from the Department of Children and Families, having been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

Valerie Krpata, ReScripted’s co-founder and co-director along with Kristen Cahill, explained how they interact with the kids. They start with games and activities that support their needs. That play time teaches different skills like managing stress.

Then, the actual scene work dives a little deeper on that message. As another example, they might be working on interpersonal skills so they might have a scene in which four specific conflicts are introduced and the kids have to navigate through those interactions.

“These kids are used to operating in survival mode, like fight or flight,” she said. “But something like this makes them feel like they don’t have to be in survival mode all the time and they can be more engaged. By having fun activities, it makes them interact in ways they don’t normally.”

Krpata added these kids have all experienced trauma at some point in their lives including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and more.

“Part of the power of this program is the power of play. These kids have been in survival mode and they’ve had no play, no joy, early on in their lives,” she noted. “We are often laughing and have nice child moments they’ve missed out on.”

ReScripted plans to expand its program to include middle school kids and will be launching another session in October. They also plan to extend the program from its original eight weeks to 12 weeks. Kids can re-enroll and take multiple sessions. The modules vary so the sessions are not just repeated.

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