Objective: Develop a novel theatre-based program and test its feasibility, tolerability, and preliminary efficacy for improving empathy/compassion and well-being among older adults.
Method: Thirteen older adults were randomized to a 6-week Drama Workshop (DW) program or time-equivalent Backstage Pass (BP) control condition. Pre- and post-treatment measures included empathy, compassion, and mood scales. Additional post-treatment measures included self-rated change in empathy/compassion, confidence, and affect. Participants also rated their mood/affect after each session.
Results: The program was successfully completed and well-liked. No pre-to-post-treatment changes in empathy/compassion or mood symptoms were found in either group. Compared to BP, DW weekly ratings indicated higher levels of anxiety and lower happiness; however, the DW program had higher self-ratings of positive change in self-esteem, confidence, and happiness post-treatment.
Discussion: While the DW may not promote empathy/compassion and was personally challenging during the program, engagement in dramatic exercises and rehearsing and performing a dramatic piece was seen by participants as a positive growth experience, as indicated by the post-treatment ratings of enhanced self-esteem, confidence and happiness. Thus, such a program might be useful for counteracting some of the potential negative aspects of aging, including reduced self-efficacy due to physical limitations and negative affect due to losses.
Keywords: community engagement; drama instruction; positive psychological traits; randomized controlled trial; successful aging.