If you regularly read our playbill and our newsletter, you’re aware of PBD’s steadfast belief that theatre can be life altering. In fact, our vision is “to enhance the quality of life through the transformative power of live theatre.” And we know, because many of you have told us, that the work we do onstage and in our education programs has greatly affected you.
Actress Margaret Ladd, wife of playwright Lyle Kessler, says her life was changed the moment she stepped onstage for the first time. And she, in turn, has helped improve the lives of thousands through the Imagination Workshop, a non-profit organization that she founded in 1969, which enables homeless veterans, at-risk youth, and people with mental illnesses to tap into their emotions, gain insight, and express themselves by writing plays and performing them before an invited audience. Guided by professional actors, playwrights, and directors, “the participants create characters and then work with each other to imagine storylines, improvise scenes, and experience the pleasure of genuine creation,” says the Imagination Workshop’s website. The Workshop was launched at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and is now located at the UCLA Semel Institute.

“It’s not therapy,” says Ladd. “It’s about giving patients self-esteem by creating a work of art. These people need to feel that there’s something in them that’s special and healthy, and that's what we work on.” Among the artists who have worked with the patients are Blythe Danner, Sam Waterston, and the late Jill Clayburgh.

Ladd was a shy child who was wounded by a trauma she experienced at a young age. She began acting at Bard College, and says, “My whole personality changed when I was playing a character. People would say to me, ‘You’re more real when you’re onstage than when you’re off.’ The fact that I could somehow be my real self onstage was like a miracle.”
The Imagination Workshop has produced impressive results thanks to an immersive creative process. Studies have verified that by writing and acting in plays, patients have higher self-esteem, improved their social skills, and fared better on job interviews. “By playing characters far removed from themselves, they start to feel the pleasure of being in a safe, social environment,” says Ladd. “These are people who have lost the ability to feel joy, and we help give it back to them.”  
Ladd gives her husband much of the credit for the Imagination Workshop’s success. “If we hadn’t met, the program never would have happened,” she says. “I could create characters with the patients, and they could do little scenes. But I knew I needed a playwright because I didn't know how to make the stories end. We couldn’t allow the illness to grab hold of their imagination.”

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