I work at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts, which is a community-based agency that serves a broad spectrum of clients and contract sites across Chicago and its suburbs. ITA is situated in Evanston, Illinois. Evanston is currently celebrating, albeit somewhat sedately, our Northwestern Wildcats win in the Gator Bowl, its first bowl game win since 1949. While my own unexpected journey to ITA and my status as a Registered Drama Therapist has not been as long as the Wildcats quest for a bowl win, it has certainly seemed epic at times to me.
Ted Rubenstein, former Clinical Director of ITA and a well-respected Drama Therapist, and I both attended The Theatre School at DePaul University (though we were there at different times). From there I joined the Geese Theatre Company under John Bergman, a giant in the field of Drama Therapy. In every type of correctional institution I found myself running workshops and acting in interactive improvisational shows all concerned with improving family communication, confronting thoughts and actions leading to criminal behavior, and managing rage and other destructive impulses. After leaving the American Geese, I then wrote and received a grant to continue work with Geese Theatre Company of Great Britain, which involved much more extensive work in probation and parole programs than is present in the United States. I often myself in American prisons with state-of-the-art institutions but very little by way of programs to actually help inmates reform. By contrast, the United Kingdom often had decrepit institutions but a much higher investment in programming, especially in aftercare and alternatives to custody. Upon graduating from acting school I had no real understanding of the power of drama to produce change. After my time in Geese Theatre, both here and abroad, I did, and I wanted a career in making that kind of drama happen.
Returning to the U.S.A., I began work on my Masters in Therapeutic and Educational Drama, and independent degree study program through Lesley College in Cambridge Massachusetts. I found myself engrossed in the stories of those who came to the Heartland Alliance International Refugee Center and the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. It was my honor to create performances with immigrants and refugees from disparate places such as Cambodia, Eritrea, Guatemala, Laos, Somalia, Sudan, and Vietnam. These performers shared their life experiences to make these shows, and sometimes crafted works of fiction that represented the experiences of family, friends, and neighbors. I am deeply grateful for the lessons of hope, hard work, and resiliency that were imparted by people whose bond with humanity had been battered by intentional abuses of their fellow man. Those experiences gave me not just a degree, but a deep commitment to doing whatever I could to better the lives of others.
During this time I also returned to improv theatre by auditioning and being accepted into ComedySportz of Chicago, where I soon became Director of Education & Training. In that role I brought the ComedySportz High School League Program to the Chicago area. High School League is a particular brand of improv show for teens, a kind of cooperative competition, where teams compete in rounds of short improvised scenes, games or songs but the ultimate goal is working together to give each audience a great show. High School League is about competing while at the same time fully accepting each other’s choices and building each other up, and for the kids involved it seemed a welcome contrast to other cultural forces present in high school (and beyond) which were all about tearing down others to build up self, and criticism, and fearing and finding fault in difference. It wasn’t exactly Drama Therapy, but it remains a near and dear part of my life. I left behind the role of education director to formally become a Drama Therapist when Ted Rubenstein brought me into ITA in 2002. It took me until 2012 to pull together a proper, complete, detailed account of my educational and professional experience in order to receive my credentials as a Registered Drama Therapist.
At the recent NADTA conference Marilyn “Toddy” Richman, a founder of the National Association of Drama Therapy (now the North American Drama Therapy Association) brought me up onstage to sing with her an ode I wrote the creative arts therapies. When Toddy founded ITA in 1975, having Music, Art, Dance, and Drama Therapies under one roof was a cornerstone of her vision. Today, while multi-modal co-treatment happens only when treatment calls for it and circumstances allow it, collaborative consultation is constant and ongoing.
I just returned from New Orleans having enjoyed a blessed vacation from Chicago winter. Part of the trip was bittersweet, as the last time I was there was with the late Ted Rubenstein presenting together on a conference for Speech Therapy and Audiology. We were presenting on our work using Drama Therapy in group outpatient treatment of aphasia. When that program renewed, Ted stepped aside to allow room for another creative arts therapy to co-treat with me as the remaining Drama Therapist. Thus far I have worked with Art Therapists and Music Therapists in the Aphasia program, and this past year our new Clinical Director Jenni Rook, a Music Therapist, worked hard to expand services to include Drama Therapy for in-patient care at that rehab hospital. I think Ted would be pleased that these multi-modal creative arts therapy efforts continue at Institute for Therapy through the Arts.
If you are in our local area or know someone that is, you can support ITA in a fun way by attending…
Women’s Club of Evanston 2013 Benefit Show Supporting ITA
“Laughter in the Key of WCE”
Date: March 7, 8, 9 & 14, 15, 16, 2013 – at 8:00pm
Location: The Women’s Club of Evanston, 1702 Chicago Avenue, Evanston
Cost: $32.50, $40 for premium seating. Tickets on sale beginning January 6, 2013.
Metered street parking, a parking lot, and garage parking are available within walking distance.
The ode I sang with Toddy, “To Be the Very Model of a Creative Arts Therapist”, was written for the WCE event. Find out more about ITA and what we are up to on the following media sites:
Happy New Year
Keith Whipple, MA, RDT
Evanston, IL (Go Wildcats)
Keith Whipple, MA, RDT
Music Institute of Chicago’s
Institute for Therapy through the Arts
2008 Dempster Street
Evanston, IL 60202