Conflict and Dramatic Play: A Better Way to Resolution Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Conflict and Dramatic Play: A Better Way to Resolution

1 Conversation defines conflict as:

'to be in or come into opposition; to differ or to engage in warfare.'

Conflict can take variety of forms in daily life. Conflict can be verbal, physical, emotional or psychological. Actual contact of any kind is not needed to have conflict.

Resolution of Conflict

There are many ways to resolve conflict. Many responses chosen by people result in an escalation of the conflict. Physical violence, war, verbal abuse and silence treatment are some reactions to conflict. All of these cause more strife, some internal and some external. Physical violence or fighting causes an increase of hate and rarely end any conflict. It usually involves a lot of physical damage that can also be fatal. Verbal abuse affects you emotionally and psychologically. It causes you to feel depressed about yourself and your surrounding environment. Psychology dictates that human contact is a necessary component to a healthy and sane mind. Silence treatment takes this component away; it makes resolution impossible. This entry will refer to Michael Rohd and Patricia Sternberg; for sources, check the bottom of the entry.

Two Types of Dramatic Play Activities

There are many dramatic activities that can help resolve or reduce conflict. Some are preventative measures, or 'before-the-fact' measures, while others are solution-oriented measures, or 'after-the-fact' measures.

Some General Before-The-Fact Activities

'Two Revelations'

In his book, Michael Rohd lists several conflict-preventative dramatic activities that he has collected. An activity called 'Two Revelations' helps alleviate conflict that might arise in the future. The basic idea of this activity involves secrets. Two people form a pair and each member of the team comes up with a secret. One of the team members reveals his or her secret to the other. When the secret has been revealed, both individuals have to talk about them and identify what misconceptions were formed by keeping this secret. This activity portrays the malicious effects of secrecy and distrust. Example: John and Jane are in a team together. John thinks up of a personal secret. Jane thinks one up too. Then John reveals what his secret was. Let's say that secret was that he hates Jane because she always uses him to cheat on a test. Jane might have been thinking all along that John doesn't mind. The bitter mistrust between them would grow. Then Jane takes her turn to reveal a secret. When both secrets have been revealed, a lot of mistrust evaporates. This shows the individuals who don't keep any secrets have a greater possibility of avoiding conflict.

'Carry the Ball'

Patricia Sternberg also brings a list of theatre games for the promotion of cooperation. One of the games that she uses to promote cooperation is 'Carry the ball.' This game involves a two-person team. These two people stand back-to-back with a tennis ball in the middle. The object of this game is to reach the other side of the room without the ball falling. This game requires a lot of cooperation, especially in a competitive setting. The problems between people will begin to diffuse as they work together.

Some After-The-Fact Activities

Legislative Theatre

A recent Brazilian Vereador (assemblyman, city councilman), Augusto Boal invented a newer way to solve the public's various problems. He called this new technique 'Legislative Theatre'. Augusto Boal's Legislative Theatre itself was a response-orientated conflict resolution. He would take the actors to cities and ask for problems that its citizenry was experiencing. Then the theatre would enact the screen in front of the spect-actors1. After the conflict and its impacts were shown the scene was frozen, and possible remedies were asked from the spect-actors. The theatre would then play the scene again with the changes until all where satisfied. Example: Let us assume that a lady comes to the theatre with a possible problem with her husband. The actors then simulate this problem in front of the town audience. At some point the actors freeze and the 'spect-actors' provide a possible solution. The actors play out the solution and the results are seen. If the parties involved in the problem are not satisfied with the result, then the cast return to the freeze-point for another possible solution. Augusto Boal's methods have dissipated many family feuds, secrets and conflicts.

BAD Sentence Structure

The books also bring a lot of responsive, resolving activities. Patricia Sternberg recommends making lists of sentences that promote the reduction of bad behaviour. For example, rather than saying 'I hate you,' which might antagonise the other person, you could say, 'I hate what you said about me'. This may cause a change in the behaviour because unlike the first sentence which attacks the person as a whole, the second doesn't target the individual but rather the behaviour of that particular individual.

Workplace Conflict & Project Management

Dramatic play can also help reduce conflict in the workplace. Managers can use many of these activities in the team-building stages of project management. In project management, there are four stages of team building. These stages are forming, storming, norming and performing. In the first stage, a team comes together. In the second stage, personal motives and other issues start to emerge. In the third stage, reality strikes and everybody tries to restore the team. In the last stage, the team works together to perform for the end result. In order to leave the stage of 'storming', which is crucial to the success of the project, one has to resolve all conflicts. Personal motives have to be addressed and a unison method must be established2. This can be done through dramatic play. If the preventative-method dramatic activities were used in the forming stage, the chance and probability of conflict would be a lot less in the storming stage. In the event of the surfacing of a conflict in the second stage, the project manager may use dramatic activities to resolve the issue.

'Wool Web'3

An activity to symbolise and show cooperation to team members is the 'Wool Web'. In this activity the team spreads around the area and the manager will hold a ball of wool. The instructor says something positive about a team member, grabs the end of the wool and throws the yarn ball to the team member. The team member then says something positive about another team member and then throws the ball towards that team member, while holding on to the opening string of wool. This continues until either everybody has been called, or the wool runs out (preferably the latter, so that everyone has multiple ends). This symbolises the web between the team members and shows the amount of cooperation and friendliness that is needed between team members. An alternative activity is for everyone to write at least one positive thing about each member of the team or group. This way each member gets feedback from everybody in the group.

'Trust Walks'

These help build trust between team members. A 'trust walk' usually entails everybody to be in a line with their eyes closed. They should try not to open their eyes, but if they feel insecure, they may. The manager then leads them through an obstacle-less course. This increases trust among team members and a trust for the project manager. These activities also help break the ice and build friendly relationships among team members, reducing further possibilities for conflict.


Dramatic play can help reduce conflict. There are two types of conflict-reducing dramatic activities. There are proactive or preventative dramatic activities. These try to build trust, cooperation and friendship between members of a group. They focus on reducing conflict in the future. Some examples of this kind of activity are 'carry the ball', 'two revelations', 'yarn web' and 'trust walks'. There are reactive dramatic activities that try to resolve existing conflicts focusing on reducing anger, bringing understanding and resolution between two parties in a conflict. An example of this kind is Legislative Theatre (sometimes known as 'right way / wrong way') which helps to lessen conflict in the workplace and in the school. It reduces opposition and difference, which in turn are requirements for the existence of conflict as described by the definition.

Works Cited

  • American National Standards Institute / Project Management Institute: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) 2000 ed., White Plains: Automated Graphic Systems, 2000.
  • Rohd, Michael: Theatre for Community, Conflict & Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual, Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.
  • Sternberg, Patricia: Theatre for Conflict Resolution: In the Classroom and Beyond, Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.
1Boal himself coined the term for spectators in an interactive play. In such, spectators are not mere watching but participating as well.2from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).3In America this is called 'Yarn Web'.

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