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The Power of Theatre for Learning


This article is based on inputs from the Master Class by Ashish Vidyarthi, a Multi-Faceted Thespian and Thought Communicator, held on Day 2 - SHRMIAC’19. He taught some unique and engaging techniques about theatre and communication in the Master Class that enables us to discover our Modus Operandi and identifying its impact on our everyday lives and thereby, enrich our regular lives.  


Theatre is unrivalled in its ability to reflect the realities and nuances of life and work. While highlighting challenges, behaviors and characteristics that hold us and our organizations back, theatre can also provide us with tools and techniques to overcome these. It offers organizations highly effective experiential and immersive approaches to achieve outcomes such as conflict resolution, developing leadership skills and even in addressing unconscious biases at the workplace.

Did you know? Theatre-based corporate trainings have been around since the 1970s in India! In the 1970s and 1980s, theatre-based/ drama-based training was mostly leveraged by HR and organizations for behavioral training as part of their employee engagement initiatives.  In time, organizations also began to use theatre-based training for activities such as ice-breaking and team building.

Areas Where theatre-based training is most effective

  • Identifying and removing biases
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Learning and development
  • Creative thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Employee well-being
  • Confidence-building
  • Management training
  • Leadership development
  • Modeling employee behavior
  • Building an agile workforce
  • Change management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Assertive communication

The growth of theatre-based training into a serious HR/ Corporate tool

In India theatre-based training has evolved into a serious tool for critical activities only in the past decade.

There is a growing understanding among Learning and Development professionals that learning needs to be self-directed, agile, customized and experiential for it to be effective.

How are companies successfully using theatre-based training?

  • Intel India uses theatre for management training for managing teams effectively by understanding varying behaviors.
  • Target India is leveraging theatre for diversity training.
  • At ITC, theatre-based training is being leveraged for developing influencing, negotiation, conflict resolution, and assertive communication skills among frontline employees.
  • Hindustan Aeronautics leverages theatre for improving creativity and collaboration, conflict management skills for senior managers and hands-on training for management trainees.
  • Nokia and Puma used theatre-based training to help employees with the process of organizational restructuring.

Breaking our Modus Operandi (MO)

Modus Operandi is the way we function/ operate and the way we habitually do things in work or any other aspect of life and the everyday. It is based on our lived experiences, knowledge and exposure. And we break our MO on an everyday basis too. For instance, when we make use of a sudden opportunity to present something/ make a speech in a new group by overcoming the anxiety and fear (that we all face as human beings), we are breaking our MO. Put differently, we take risks knowing fully well that the consequences could be positive or negative. This is how we grow. Theatre enables us to break our Modus Operandi and trains us to be chameleons who respect the hues of life. 

As Ashish Vidyarthi puts it,

“As human beings, we need to respect the hues of life, in the form of difference in color, language, abilities, gender, caste, class, religion, region, etc. and integrate different kinds of people and ways of life by overriding a part of ourselves that is telling us that someone is different from what we know and what we are used to seeing, and so should not allow them. We need to break our Modus Operandi. Honoring the hues of life is the natural way of living. Chameleons have the deepest respect for nature and hues of life and adapt themselves willingly to the natural way as they realize that all cannot be the same way.”

When we become chameleons, we do not have an MO. We can adapt quickly and accept and include difference more easily. This realization enabled by theatre training is highly effective in addressing and removing conscious and unconscious biases and creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This improved ability to adapt to changes also makes the employees and as a result, the organization more agile in the VUCA world. It can be used to motivate employees to take chances and develop a growth mindset.

Promoting innovation and developing a creative mindset

As Ashish Vidyarthi puts it,

“In theatre, it takes two to tango – the performers and the audience, an empathetic one and one that comes in with a willing suspension of disbelief.”

The audience experiences the performance by keeping aside their critical faculties (that reiterates the obvious to them) and immerses itself the surreal world. Theatre-based training also provides the audience a safe space and non-judgmental platform to observe and see behavior (others’ or their own reflected through the artists). They then interpret it freely, discuss with others which triggers introspection and enables them to reimagine their own MO.

The performers in theatre experience whatever it is they are tasked with, even if it is something they do not know or are not comfortable with. In theatre, especially Improv, performers are taught to say “yes and…” as that is what will take the performance forward. If the performer were to say “No”, the act stops there. This is how you explore your creativity, innovate and develop a creative mind with a growth mindset.

Theatre teaches employees to better manage resources, take risks, unearth hidden opportunities, to be inquisitive, ask questions to trigger change and take control of their decisions, work and lives. It encourages employees to think of creative solutions and opens them to a world of possibilities.

Ashish Vidyarthi,

“Everything that happens to us in life must be our interpretation of it. So, instead of doing the obvious and sticking to your MO, open yourself to a world of possibilities. Surprise yourself!”

In theatre, you do not do things because it should be done. You do things that really inspire you. You start finding opportunities, being resourceful, joining the dots and taking control over your narrative.


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