Imagination Workshop

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About Imagination Workshop
Imagination Workshop, located at the Jane & Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, is a world-renowned dramatic arts program in which veterans, psychiatric patients, at-risk youth and other disenfranchised individuals engage in a series of workshops culminating in writing, directing and acting in plays under the guidance of specially trained theatre artists with the result of experiencing positive, lasting behavioral changes. 

For more than 45 years, the Imagination Workshop artists have been
working with people at severe risk of social failure, using theatrical improvisation to develop their creative imagination, thereby helping them reconnect with their emotions and aspirations, with others, and with themselves. It provides a safe place for adults to play imaginatively as they did when children and because it is only “make-believe”, participants feel free to do and say things in the guise of a character that they may be afraid or unable to express as themselves. 

Founded in 1969 by actress Margaret Ladd and writer Lyle Kessler, Imagination Workshop has successfully employed theater arts to redirect the brain away from the "broken self" - brought on by conditions such as post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, autism to a more complete self. 

Distinct from therapy that is limited to examining the patient's real-life problems and challenges, the Imagination Workshop applies the transcendent power of metaphor. As Ms. Ladd observes, "Shakespeare advises the artist to ‘wrap ugly truths in beauty.’ Our patients have lost their wrapping. They are raw. We give them the mask of a character which soothes and protects the injured self behind which, as it heals itself, begins to share its lovely yearnings."  

During weekly workshops held year round, participants play characters far removed from themselves. In the guise of these characters, and under the protective guidance of Imagination Workshop artists, patients are able to break out of their isolation and create genuine relationships. As the characters, they express feelings, needs and wants that that they have been unable to express as themselves. It is an integrative process. The patients experience the joy of a whole self, some for the first time in their lives. Imagination Workshop offers them a bridge to a more optimistic future. 

 In addition, the specific skills that are developed include:
Imaginative Play with Joy, Fun and Humor
Emotional Self-Regulation and Body Awareness
Personal Agency
Thoughtful Risk-Taking 
Patience and Persistence
Introspection and Self-Reflective Thinking
Empathy and Perspective-Taking
Interpersonal Communication Skills
Free Self-Expression
Leadership and Group Participation
Creative Thinking 

Imagination Workshop has drawn together hundreds of renowned actors, writers and directors from Broadway, film and television -- including such well-known talents as Robert Altman, Susan Sarandon, Ted Danson and Sam Waterston -- to create transformative theater-based experiences with more than forty-five thousand Imagination Workshop participants. Currently, Imagination Workshop programs benefit patients at the Semel Institute, veterans at The California State Home for Veterans, homeless veterans at Salvation army/Haven House, seniors at the Virginia House in Sherman Oaks, and “at-risk” children at Olympic High School in Santa Monica. These groups represent a broad spectrum of ages, income levels and ethnicities.

We are now partnered with two major medical centers -- The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

More than one research project has demonstrated that Imagination Workshop’s approach to working with these difficult cases is effective.  

The most recent study conducted by Dr. Victoria Stevens, evaluatied a 10 week course for female homeless veterans through the New Directions Program at the Los Angeles VA confirmed the efficacy and importance of this unique form of creative therapeutic program as a crucial part of a multi-faceted treatment plan for veterans and any group of individuals who have suffered early, acute and or ongoing trauma. 

Current research in trauma and neurobiology are validating the value of this kind of series of group experiences as part of recovery, but also for the development of critical skills that re compromised by trauma, specifically imaginative play with possibilities. 

Given that part of every integrated trauma treatment program, whether for veterans, foster youth, incarcerated youth, homeless individuals or victims of domestic violence, rape or child abuse, involves developing skills for being able to find and sustain fulfilling work and interpersonal relationships, the Imagination Workshop program has much to offer in that area as well. 

The skills of creative thinking, imaginative playing with possibilities, empathy, leadership, group collaboration, listening, flexibility and adaptability to change, and emotional regulation are all considered to be critical skills for success in the 21st century workplace and therefore essential for all, but especially for those who have been victims of trauma and have had those skills compromised. Therefore, the Imagination Workshop program can also be seen as an important part of vocational training, particularly for the disenfranchised. 

Imagination Workshop is truly an Art/Science Alliance which has proven for almost half a century that artists and scientists working together can reach through the terrible isolation of our most fragile citizens and, through the wonder of the art of metaphorical, poetic, optimistic theater, give them courage and hope to enter back into the family of man.
Board of Directors
Les Zackler, M.D., Board Chair
Margaret Ladd, Founding Artistic Director
Chip Bent, Treasurer
Curtis Graham, Esq.
Lyle Kessler, Co-Founder
Kathleen Coyne
Cindy Kludt
Nicholas Rowley

Jim McGrath, Executive Director
Gerald James, Christina Linhardt, & Marnie Olson, IW Playwriting Group Leaders
Luci Kwak Bradley, Special Events Coordinator

Senior Artists
Chip Bent
Gerald James
Lyle Kessler
Margaret Ladd
Jim McGrath
Christina Linhardt

Our Supporters
Foundations who have supported IW 
in recent years include:
Metabollic Studio
Annenberg Foundation
Parsons Foundation
Wells Fargo Foundation
Drown Foundation
Buntzman Foundation

Public Support has come from:
National Endowment for the Arts
Los Angeles County Performing Arts Commission
City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department
California Arts Council
Parish, Shea & Boyle, LLP
Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan
Daniel Balaban, Balaban & Spielberger, LLP
Interested in learning more?