Vivid Performances helping people with intellectual disabilities through drama

By Grainne McCool

A drama company in Donegal is using performance arts to help people with intellectual disabilities integrate into the community.

“The drama helps service users to communicate better, build their confidence, self esteem, be creative and have fun while learning,” says Emma Porter, CEO of Vivid Performances, pictured above.

“Many of these people have Autism, OCD and Asperger’s. Drama helps them through role play and using characterisation.”

Based in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Emma’s work takes her around the county and beyond. She also works part-time with the HSE using drama to help people with intellectual disabilities.

Emma, who works with people from 18 to 80, said:  “I believe drama can help any disability as it provides a creative and expressive approach to learning. Role play and characterisation really help the service user to understand the task and topic in hand as opposed to studying from books and texts. It helps them find the words to communicate and the movement and expression to show their feelings and emotions.

The actress has been working in this role for 11 years. Earlier this year she became Community Access Facilitator. Here she now helps the service users to prepare for work experience, social outing, independent living and to be confident and happy.

Emma added: “I’m delighted to say that there are many and various small successes on a daily basis with the service users.

“From seeing them develop the ability and confidence to open savings accounts, managing their money, gardening, making a phone call, and they leave every day happy and delighted with their accomplishments.


“What we take for granted, some need assistance and help with and some just need to learn the basics. When these basics are mastered it allows the service user to live just like you and I.”

Emma set out on her journey with Vivid Performances 16 years ago. She continues to grow annually and just this year added public speaking coaching to her endless talents in communication.

Vivid Performances logo

Drama is at the heart of everything she does. She is a firm believer in the positive attributes that drama can bring to a persons life.

Her work allows her to explore these positive attributes of drama with young and not so young, on a daily basis.

“At school I had no interest in academia,” says Emma.

“Books did not appeal to me. I was more interested in art, woodwork etc.

“The creative subjects were the only interest I had. Then when I was just 16 years old, I went along to an open day at the North West Regional College in Derry for Performance Arts.

“That was the day I knew the pathway my life would take. I may not be the Hollywood actress I’d dreamed of that day, but drama is at my very heart and soul since then.”

Emma went on to study Performance arts, graduating with her BA Honours degree in the field.

“The fundamentals of drama then sent me to education,” she says.

I carried out various work experience periods in schools. The impact that drama was having on children was having a huge impact on me. I knew this was a pathway I should follow.

On returning home to Buncrana after studying in England, Emma began giving lessons in drama to small groups of children. She was seeing the confidence and self-esteem growing in these children as a result of her work. And so her drama groups grew and Vivid Performances was born.

So just how, after 16 years, is a drama school for children benefiting our young folk?

“When I was in school people didn’t know the benefits of drama,” says Emma.

“We weren’t taught it as a subject. Now we see the turnaround to self-development from drama.

“We see the importance that self-confidence makes to a person, young and not so young.

Drama is allowing quieter children to become more confident and competent in their ability to communicate.

Drama increases self-esteem and allows the student to become a more confident, capable individual in all walks of life.”

child on stage

Emma says that during her schooling days, even English didn’t appeal to her: “I wasn’t even interested in English – except when I was asked to stand up and act out a scene from a play, or perform a piece of reading.”

Being able to incorporate that little piece of acting into learning allows learning to become more fun. Children respond more positively to the imaginative learning offered in drama.

In turn this develops skills such as communication, creativity, self-confidence and empathy.

Earlier this year Emma began her workshops in Public Speaking for adults. Although catering for such on a one-to-one basis also, these workshops were a way to introduce the power of public speaking and encourage everyday people to engage in some simple exercises which allow one to leave “with a spring in their step and an air of confidence in their manner”.

I went along to one of Emma’s Public Speaking workshops recently to see if it might benefit my work on a daily basis. I didn’t expect to leave with the new-found confidence that I did.

Initially I understood public speaking to be standing at a podium talking to an audience.

But as Emma pointed out early that evening, public speaking is speaking to people outside our home in everyday life. We all engage in public speaking of a kind on a daily basis. Immediately I was put at ease with this previous fearful concept.

Having undergone some tongue twisting exercises, pronunciation exercises and indeed facial and body exercises, I really did feel inspired.

And I have since gone on to put the simple ideas and concepts into practice within my everyday working life. And it works. Public speaking does not hold the fear that it once did.

A little drama is also at the core of public speaking. Drama is part of everyday being. We all act in one way or other at some point in our day.

Knowing how to do this correctly only serves one purpose. To enhance our ability to believe in ourselves: to enhance our ability to believe in others.

What better way to help our children become stronger, more confident individuals?

A little drama in all our lives can help take us along the pathway of life a little easier and with a lot more confidence.

Vivid Performances of Speech and Drama is on Facebook at Vivid Performances.

Her contact details are: 0863601537; E:


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