Under Pressure Program: Using Live Theatre to Investigate Adolescents' Attitudes and Behavior Related to Drug and Alcohol Abuse Education and Prevention

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Alcohol and other drugs have drastically permeated our society. Throughout adolescents' school careers, and indeed their lives, most will be faced with many drug-related decisions, that is, whether to abstain or to use alcohol and other drugs, and if they choose to use them, determine the liabilities and consequences; how to behave in potentially drug-related situations such as attending or hosting a party, riding with someone who has been drinking, or dealing with a friend or relative who is chemically dependent; and eventually voting on laws related to alcohol and other drugs. The goals of an effective alcohol and drug education program are clear: to help adolescents develop the confidence needed to foster refusal skills, and to provide assistance in developing communication skills. Given that the school is one of the single most important facets of adolescents' social system, it should be utilized to impart critical information. The Under Pressure Program incorporates this philosophy through the dynamic combination of a high-quality artistic presentation and applied learning techniques. This unique blend enables adolescents to understand the pressures they face and teaches them to make responsible choices.

The program is targeted at predominantly minority, low-income, Chicago elementary, junior, and senior high school students who have been identified as "high risk." The design of the Under Pressure Program was made possible through a collaborative agreement between Loyola University of Chicago, Loyola University Center for Children and Families, and the Chicago-based not-for-profit Music Theatre Workshop. Funding was made possible through a 1990-93 grant awarded to the Center for Children and Families from the United States Department of Education Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program/Demonstration Grants to Institutions of Higher Education.

The centerpiece of the Under Pressure Program is an original, professionally scripted 30-minute live musical play, Captain Clean, which features singing, dancing, and contemporary music specifically designed to enhance the action of the play. The play concentrates on the difficult choices made by the young characters, who are challenged by school stresses, peer pressure, and failed family relationships. Their situations are familiar to adolescents of all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Secondary issues often coinciding with adolescent substance abuse are also addressed, including teenage pregnancy, gang involvement, male-female relationships, and dysfunctional family structures.

The nonthreatening format of the professional theatrical performance is followed immediately by 90 minutes of discussion and role playing--the crucial segment in addressing alcohol and drug abuse. Students are engaged in active participation rather than the traditional "teach and preach" format of television and radio. The result is an increase in adolescent knowledge, an understanding of the choices they face, and an increased repertoire of problem solving and social skills needed for making appropriate decisions regarding drug and alcohol abuse. Using the play as a springboard for dialogue, the teenage audience and the Loyola University Center for Children and Families professional staff explore the pressures of drug and alcohol abuse. Pre- and postperformance support is provided for the adolescents, teachers, counselors, and community representatives by a psychologist from the Center. One feature that sets the program apart from traditional media techniques is that it is interactive; it takes place in the intimacy of a classroom where the social learning model is implemented, confronting problems that the adolescents must discuss and solve together.

UNDER PRESSURE PROGRAM

Faculty. Staff, and Community In-Service

Prior to the play and postperformance discussion, an in-service is conducted by a Center specialist. This is to acquaint faculty, counselors, administrators, and community representatives with the program format and prepare them for a wide range of student reactions. …