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From the Stage into Teens’ Minds: Improv Theater Increases Trust and Helps Prevent Addiction

“A week of theater and more…” that is what Theater RequiSiT promises students at schools in the Pfalz and in Hessen. The “more” in this case means more trust and openness, as well as the courage to accept situations and to allow oneself to change. These are not only the principles of improv theater, but also an important foundation for addiction prevention, which is what Theater RequiSiT is committed to. From January 2018 to December 2020, actors and actresses – all of whom have personal experience with addiction – will carry out theater-pedagogical work with around 600 young people and raise questions surrounding the topic of “addiction”.

“Of course, the students raise very personal questions, such as ‘What did you take?’ or ‘What did your parents say?’ and the actors also give a very personal answer. But it doesn’t stop there,” says Theater RequiSiT’s director, Nora Staeger. “We don’t come to talk about drugs, but about addiction and the mechanisms behind it. That’s why, in our discussions with students in grade 8 and higher, we also discuss on a more general level what addiction is, and what all is related to it – for example, dealing, drug-related crime, and prostitution. We want students to get a comprehensive picture of how addiction can develop.”
Addiction, continues Staeger, is always very individual, but usually follows a pattern: “One loses control, one’s environment becomes increasingly unimportant, and concentration becomes increasingly focused on this one thing.” The RequiSiT team is using its theater workshops to counteract this mechanism. As one of the actors notes, “It’s clear to us that it’s not enough to just inform teens about the dangers of everyday drugs and illegal drugs. But combined with strengthening personal development and self-reflection, we give them tools to resist potential group dynamics and to find their own way.”

Improv theater, explains Nora Staeger, can increase and expand one’s trust in oneself and others. “Unfortunately, not all students learn these important life concepts, which make young people more resilient, at home,” says the theater educator. If one asks teens, they will confirm this impression; as one student said, “I came here to learn how to trust other people.” That is why it is particularly important to the actors to meet each participant where they are and to give them the feeling: “You are good just the way you are.”

“What I find especially great,” said actor Heinz Neffgen, “is seeing how the students change over the course of the week. How they grow together, how their self-confidence increases, and how they experiment with different roles.” The actor has been with the theater project since it was started in 1996. He has observed that the topics that concern teens have remained similar over the years. “Of course, society and the language of teens change,” he says, “but at its core its always about people and their feelings.”