What is Social Theatre?

STPC2016Photo-AmadorVisit the new website: socialtheatre.org


History of Social Theatre

Growing up going to Music, Arts, and Drama camp, I loved taking the clowning workshop every summer. It was really a great experience just being able to be free and express yourself through play with others!

As a school social worker, I began a clown troupe that wrote their own plays about social skills and prevention issues.  Our clown troupe evolved into a comedy troupe, and we began incorporating Social Thinking® concepts.  Bringing the idea of Social Theatre to Colleen Hanson, the owner of CORE Connection Counseling in Lisle, IL, she allowed me to begin theatre groups to practice and teach social skills in the clinical setting.

What Sessions Look Like

Social Theatre occurs in a group therapy setting, where participants learn about social skills through script writing and improvisational theatre activities.  Participants are taken through a collaborative writing process at the speed they are comfortable, then eventually perform their own skits in the community.   Scripts are written about social fails and how to correct the situations.  Their skits include strategies utilizing social emotional concepts from Social Thinking®, Assertiveness Training, Skillstreaming, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Actual sessions are 45-50 minutes with a parent briefing afterwards.  The parent briefing includes a discussion of the activities, the rationale and teaching behind the activities, as well as an optional weekly family assignment.  Moreover, during this time, we also brainstorm and plan outings where the participants can perform.

Because this is group therapy, CORE Connection Counseling accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO.  We also can submit billing for other insurance companies as a courtesy, but payment is due at time of service.  For more information, see our website, CORE Connection Counseling.

Included in this blog…….

This blog contains some of the scripts we have written, improvisational games, and activities that teach and allow others to practice social skills.  Feel free to use the ideas and plays written in my blog! Our ideas are meant to be shared. However, please give credit to Shawn Amador and the Social Theatre groups out of CORE Connection.

If Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® concepts are utilized, please give her credit as well.


Narrator Part and analysis of real life

Having students practice the Narrator part in Social Theatre is essential in being able to practice analyzing a situation.  When writing the narrator part, participants are analyzing the situation and coming up with questions they can ask during a performance.  However, as we know–practice helps us to remember, which can help participants remember these questions so they can use to analyze situations in real life.

Anxiety and Social Skills? Chicken or Egg?

For some, the struggle of anxiety feeds into the struggle with social skills.  For others, the struggle of social skills feed into anxiety.  For many, it’s hard to differentiate which came first, anxiety or social skills?  Or, the chicken or the egg?

What we do know, is that if both social skills and anxiety can be worked on simultaneously, that this can help boost confidence in social skills and can decrease anxiety.

By Shawn Amador, LCSW




“Facebook” Improv activity

In working with young adults, I have been mulling over how to increase conversational exchanges while maintaining comfort and trust in the group.  And, from the development of Social Theatre concepts……..one of the biggest concepts is to have improv activities that start very basic and add challenges depending on if it’s geared toward social cognitive level or anxiety based graduated exposure.

Social media, in some ways, can feel safer because of not being face to face and having the opportunity to read about others interests without having to face the challenges of joining and maintaining a conversation. 

“FACEBOOK” improv activity

Everyone in the group wrote down their current “status”.  One person shared their ‘status’ and those who felt comfortable, wrote down on a piece of paper a ‘reply’.

Next challenge: verbal ‘reply’ without writing it.

Next challenge: verbal ‘status’, verbal ‘reply’

Next challenge: Stand to share ‘status’, and those who have a verbal ‘reply’ walk up to person with status, then ‘reply’.

Next challenge:  continue the conversation.  🙂

Balloon Pop: Mindfulness Wrap Up

Because our sessions tend to be high energy, we need to wrap up with a calming activity, which are also activities clients can use in life.

Here’s one our group really likes:

  • Think of one worry or one frustration. Think about it profusely.  Visualize pictures of what that worry or frustration looks like.  Blow up a pretend balloon with each worry or frustration visualization.  Each time you visualize another worry or frustration, imagine the picture traveling from the brain down through one’s breath into the balloon.  Blow it up as big as needed.  Then, pop it, envisioning the worry or frustration out of the mind.  If needed, get another balloon.  (by Shawn Amador, June 13, 2017)

“The Small Change”

A participant brought a script to group, already written.  AMAZING!!!

  • The level of commitment this young person has to this group is outstanding!!!
  • This child is thinking about social skills outside of group and is applying them.  YAY!!!
  • Showing ability to take a risk with their own creativity and sharing it!

Values behind the playwriting process are:

  • Skits can always be made better.
  • Make the skit understandable and simple enough for the audience
  • Allow others to try characters and input their characterizations

Challenges of this process:

  • Author of original script may have difficulty letting go of his or her ideas
  • Listening to accept criticism in order to help script flow
  • Allowing others ideas to be merged with original ideas, as those are not the author’s ideas but someone else’s ideas.
  • Allowing characters to be somewhat different than envisioned.

As I have guided my group through graduated exposure of the playwriting process, my participants were ready for the next level.   They had first practiced skits written by other kids their age, in order to learn the format and gain the confidence.  Our group then went through the brainstorming process and utilized each others ideas as building blocks, then created plays together.  Next, the group members have been encouraged to write on their own, which brings a whole new challenge to the idea of being socially flexible and willing to accept criticism to make something even better.  As a group, we went through the entire process together, and this group member showed readiness to move onto the next stage of being able to open up to criticism for an even better play.

It is SO difficult for children on the spectrum and who have social deficits to do this.  But, my youngster has been so open to this challenge.  Simply amazing.  Here’s the finalized script, which included collaboration between four youngsters, with my guidance.

The Small Change

By Social Theatre Spring season 2017



Dave’s mom



Narrator-One day there were 2 friends, Billy and Dave. They were at School, packing up for the end of the school day.

Dave-Billy, are you still coming over to my house after school?

Billy-yes!  I can’t wait!

Dave- I’m just dialing my mom to make sure she knows we are on our way home.

(pause as he dials phone)  Mom?  Hi.  Billy and I are walking home from school now.

Mom(on other side of stage, back to Dave and Billy)  Yes, I am expecting both of you home soon.  Billy’s mom called and he actually has to go to golf practice.  His mom asked us to drop him off there.

Dave– WHAT!!!I PLANNED EVERYTHING OUT AND THIS IS WHAT I GET?! NO FAIR! NO FAIR!! Once we finally plan and get to play together, now we have to drive him to golf practice?  What happened to me getting to play with my friend?  That’s SO WRONG, Mom!!!!  (Tantrum type of behavior–throws down backpack, yelling, etc.)

Billy feeling awkward, looking at Dave, not knowing what to say.


What’s going on here?

What does the mom feel?  What does Billy feel?

Is this a small problem or just a little change?  Correct! This is a “Little change” and a small problem.  Dave should try to be flexible and relax so he can problem-solve.

What can Dave do?

GREAT Idea!!!  Let’s see what Dave will do!  UNFREEZE!!

Dave-I’m so sorry I over reacted, I’ll reschedule.  Billy and I can hang out another day.

Dave’s mom-That sounds good. See you when you get home.

Dave and Billy are still walking home.

Dave-let’s hang out this Saturday.


Billy and Dave arrive at Dave’s house, go in and say his to Dave’s mom.  

Dave-Hi, mom!

Billy-Hi, Mrs. Schmave!

Mom– Hi!  Are you guys ready?  Billy, we have to get you to golf practice!

They all walk off stage together.

The Buzz Kill

Our group has been discussing how it is important to match the same type of energy that is going on in the room.  Therefore, if someone is excited, it is polite to smile and be happy.  If someone is sad, it is important to listen.  If the Cubs are winning………….it is important NOT to say GO WHITE SOX!!!!

Here’s the script we are working on:

The Buzz Kill

Written by the Social Theatre Fall 2016 Jr. High Group.


White Sox Fan-Buzz Kill

Cubs Fans

Cubs Fan #1

Cubs Fan #2

Narrator/Cubs Fan # 3


At a Cubs championship party, cubs fans were watching the game on TV.


Cubs Fans:  Go! GO GO GO GO!!!!

Cubs Fan #1: I hope they win!

Cubs Fan #2:  Only one more run to go!!!  NO outs, no outs!!!!

Cubs Fan #3: Ooooo!!!  That was CL-OSE!!!!


Cubs fans staring intently at TV, showing suspenseful feelings—on the edge of the seat, grasping with hands onto the edge of the chairs/sofa, leaning in………


White Sox fan: Hey guys!!! 

Cubs fans: Hi! Looking away fast and focusing back on the game, not making eye contact.

Cubs Fan #1: Watching game, but pulling a seat over while watching the game… Have a seat, watch with us.

White Sox Fan: UGH……NO.  I don’t want to watch the Cubs.  I hope they lose.  GO WHITE SOX!!!  GO WHITE SOX!!!

Cubs fan #2: If you don’t like the Cubs, what brought you here?

Cubs fans pause, looking annoyed and uncomfortable. 



Narrator: FREEZE!!!!  What is going on here? 

How do the Cubs fans feel?  What happened that made the Cubs fans uncomfortable?

Was the White Sox fan thinking about the Cubs fans feelings? 

Wake up White Sox fan. The others stay frozen.

I think you forgot to think about your friends, how they feel, and what they are doing.  Look at them.  Where are they? Who are they looking at? What are they feeling?  If you think of all of these things together, you will figure out what to do next. 

White Sox Fan: Looks at Cubs game TV, then looks at his friends looking at him annoyed, and looks at his White Sox hat.  Yeah…..I now see my friends are annoyed.  They are looking at me and totally annoyed with me………..  Did I just kill their moment?  Uh oh, I need to do something to make it better……..


Narrator: Good idea.  Try it!  Unfreeze!


Cubs fansl look annoyed and are uncomfortably looking at each other and the White Sox fan.


White Sox fan: I’m sorry, guys.  I didn’t want to be a Buzz Kill.  I can see now how exciting it is to be a Cubs fan right now.  You guys are SO excited about this game!!!  So, can I join you?


All Cubs fans: Yes!!!


The group cheers for the last few minutes of the game, and the cubs win.


Cubs Fans and White Sox Fan:  Stand up, cheering YES!!! The friends cheer, getting into a circle, holding each other’s shoulders and jump around in a circle yelling THEY WON! THEY WON!!!  Then, high fiving each other.











Free Association and “Stop Chasing Me!”

Brainstorming IS the process of Free Association, if the environment is set up to be open and accepting.  In this skit, one of my participants discussed a traumatic event of being chased when it was unwanted.  This example was turned into a play teaching a lesson about how to read other’s emotions and reactions during interactions.


The following is a play we wrote in our Spring Social Theatre group in 2016.


Setting: At the playground

Colleen: student          Simon: student         Oliver: Teacher      Bethany: student

Colleen and Bethany talking.

Colleen: Oh!  Wait.  I have to go ask the teacher something.  I’ll be back.

Bethany: That’s ok.  I want to go play tag.

Colleen goes up to the teacher (Mr. Oliver) and is talking to him.


Bethany chases Simon.  (Benny Hill music background)

Simon does not look happy as he’s running and yells “Stop chasing me, Stop!”

Mr. Oliver (Teacher): Bethany, he’s asking you to stop!  You will get a detention……


Mr. Oliver: FREEZE!!!

What is going on here? 

What is he (pointing to Simon) feeling?

What is she (pointing to Bethany) feeling?

Do their feelings match? 


Unfreeze Bethany only……….  Bethany, it’s important that we use our eyes to notice how others are feeling. (give her eyeglasses and wait until she puts them on)  It’s also important to use our ears to notice what others are saying and their tone of voice. (Give her ears and wait until she puts them on).  Then, it’s important to use our brains to figure out if our behavior is unexpected or expected.  (Give her brain hat and wait until she puts it on) If we do this, it will be easy to know what to do next.

Unfreeze and Rewind!


Colleen and Bethany talking.

Colleen:  Oh!  Wait.  I have to go tell my friend something.  I’ll be back.

Bethany: That’s ok.  I want to go play tag.  Hey, Simon!  Wait up.  Do you want to play tag?

Simon: Sure, Bethany!  Let’s ask Colleen too. Hey, Colleen want to play tag?

Colleen, Bethany, and Simon are playing tag.

Oliver(Teacher): Recess is over!!!  Everyone get in line.  I am so proud of you guys!  I really like it when my students follow directions and get along so well. 

Deleted Movie Scenes and accepting others ideas

Through the collaborative play-writing process, participants often become stuck on their own ideas and have difficulty accepting other ideas.

Showing participants deleted scenes from movies help them to understand that everyone’s ideas are great, it’s just that some ideas do not fit in a script.

Youtube has a plethora of deleted scenes from movies, but my favorites are:

One of the songs that didn’t make it into the movie, Frozen.

Actually, songs #13-18 on the youtube Frozen soundtrack are all songs that didn’t make it into the movie, but are amazing!   The composers also discuss that the characterizations of Elsa and Anna came from their song writings.

Deleted scenes from Inside Out


Improv foundation activity

In teaching visual cues during improv, I have the participants go through the initial steps of:

  • recognizing when someone wants to speak
  • recognizing whose turn it is next
  • understanding who will move next

We practice what someone looks like when they want to speak, giving everyone a chance to show how they look and how others look when they want to speak.

We also practice the basic foundation of improv, of “using one’s tools”, rather “eyes, ears, and brain to know what to do next” (Social Thinking concept) to notice when it’s a person’s turn.  In improvisational activities, one must notice when a person has stepped forward and which means it is their turn to talk and act.  We practice this basic skill in many of the improvisation games, and when a more difficult skill for some, we practice it by itself first.