About us

Drama for Life, based at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Arts, is dedicated to arts for social transformation and healing.

Drama for Life is internationally recognised as the University of the Witwatersrand’s unique postgraduate academic, research and community engagement department that brings together the disciplines of Applied Drama and Theatre, Performance Ethnography, Performance as Research, Arts Education, Drama Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapies within the context of a critical reflexive praxis.

Our unique programme of education prepares arts-based researchers, arts activists, theatre-makers, performance artists, directors, applied drama and theatre facilitators, drama educators, arts educators, drama therapists and expressive-arts therapists to create interventions, performances, rituals and processes that skilfully and appropriately address social transformation and healing in a wide range of education, health and social contexts.

Our ethos is driven by three key questions:

  • What does it mean to be human in the 21st century?
  • How can we learn to be resilient, without compromising our humanity, as we engage with the enormous challenges of change in the 21st century?
  • And, in so doing, how can we effectively use the arts, without compromising its aesthetic power, to bring about meaningful, sustainable social transformation and healing?

​Our Student body

DFL's general student body come from two different entry streams. The first stream brings individuals via conventional progression from secondary school study, into tertiary study and subsequent bachelor’s degree completion. A second, and significant percentage, come via recognition of prior learning channels that include certified DFL community programmes and short courses.

Our students are our main strength. Current students are impacted by our unique learning environment, strengthen their ability to express themselves in their chosen and cultural informed art forms, and are able to in turn engage with local communities in a dialogical, appreciative and critically reflective manner, being impacted and intern impacting communities during their studies.

Our alumni enter the world of work and life with a unique and wide range of skills that can transform and heal the communities and individuals they choose to work with ending up in a variety of institutions ranging from educational spaces from early childhood development through to higher education, NGO’s government institutions, legal clinics, health clinics, orphanages, community arts centres, main stream arts centres and the list goes on. In all these spaces they continue to establish and evolve dialogical learning spaces that embrace indigenous knowledge systems, arts and critical reflectivity.

How we teach and learn

Drama for Life prioritises the implementation of an Applied Drama and Theatre teaching and learning practice that is premised on our bodies operating within social and cultural contexts. Furthermore, experiential pedagogy is reliant on physical presence and human contact for the purposes of reflection, transformation, education, and healing. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing social fragmenting aftermath, coupled with technological advancement, this complex pedagogy is developing into new and nuanced practises, innovations, and research.

At the very core of what we want to achieve, pedagogically, is to challenge the barriers and historically divisive systemic inequalities that manifest in gender, geographic, racial, and socio-economic challenges.

Our milieu-based learning environment

DFL strives to create a teaching and learning community that affirms belonging, shared purpose, and collaborative and people-driven practice. In this way the invisibility of the individual student experience, that is common within a large education institution is minimised.

Leveraging the arts and indigenous ways of knowing

By further embracing embodied and indigenous ways of knowing, art forms, languages and storytelling frames, the DFL pedagogy helps students to feel they can belong. To the extent that this is achieved, they can become immersed in processing their lived experiences, and to be a witness to the processing of others, from myriad perspectives. This context enlivens a generative space in which agency is strengthened and critical reflectivity cultivated.

Dialogical teaching philosophy, immersed in context and civic engagement

One of DFL’s theoretical foundations is Paulo Freire’s dialogical teaching philosophy that positions the student and the teacher on a more equal playing field acknowledging the understanding and experience that students enter the classroom with. The same philosophy drives us into community contexts for student learning, positioning community members and leaders also as vessels of knowledge that students and staff learn from. WE therefore have an engaged pedagogy that embraces civic engagement building dialogue between the University and the communities they relate to and serve.

Critical reflective and reflexive practise

A core skill that our therapists and practitioners must develop, is critical reflective practise - taught in each year of study as a core course of the degrees we offer. Our graduates embody intricate reflective skills such as deep listening, creating connections, being present, awareness and self-management.