Empathy and Sympathy in Applied Theatre: A Qualitative Study

2018-07-03T14:31:44Z (GMT) by Karen Dainty
As an academic working in the field of applied theatre with undergraduate students, I became increasingly interested in how their skills, techniques, knowledge and understanding are developed to work in applied theatre settings, particularly those that were unfamiliar to them. I was particularly interested in investigating how important, if at all, are the concepts of empathy and sympathy in the preparation of students to work in applied theatre settings and with different client groups. Research of relevant literature revealed pedagogical parallels with social work, particularly in relation to the client-facilitator relationship. There appeared to be synergy between the work undertaken in applied theatre settings and in social work. The interdisciplinary nature of this research contributes to new professional knowledge and practice. A qualitative case study was undertaken, adopting a constructivist and interpretative approach, to understand the way meanings of empathy and sympathy were constructed and interpreted by the students when working in applied theatre settings. The research took place as part of normal professional practice and consisted of a questionnaire (n=14), two semi-structured interviews (n=4) and a focus group (n=4) with third year students studying a BA(Hons) Drama in the Community degree at a small UK Higher Education Institute (HEI). The findings indicated that the participants found it difficult to define, or describe, the concepts of empathy and sympathy with any clarity. They also found it difficult to distinguish between the concepts. However, there was a consensus of opinion that the ability to distinguish between them was important because of the client-facilitator relationship when working in applied theatre settings. The data highlighted that the concepts had only been taught or considered on the programme of study in an implicit way. From this, I concluded that teaching the students the concepts in a more explicit way would help develop their knowledge and understanding of those concepts, thus enabling them to become more informed applied theatre graduates.