CRI Theater for Health

Storytelling through drama, music, and dance helps ideas come to life in a powerful way. In CRI Theater for Health, a community collaborates with actors to develop a series of plays that explore solutions to health challenges they face. As people get involved in the story, see it acted out, and act it out themselves, they can incorporate new information into their decisions and adopt those changes to live healthier lives.


CRI Theater for Health is a unique merger of health literacy, the arts, science, and public health.

In CRI Theater for Health, the community participates in the development of a series of performances. During the performances, actors and community members interact and learn as they develop solutions to health challenges together. This incorporates scientific evidence-based approaches into a family of approaches, often called Theatre of the Oppressed, which uses a range of theatrical forms to support communities in developing collective solutions to real-world problems.

CRI Theater for Health can be used to address any health and health literacy topics, depending on the needs of the community. Content of the performances is unique to each community because the program is informed by an initial formative assessment that identifies current conditions in the community, barriers to healthier behaviors, resources present, and the culturally grounded and widely shared narratives that could be used to create a play.

When CRI Theater for Health started, we called it the Arts for Behavior Change program, which CRI developed in 2010 in partnership with The Clorox Company along with collaborators in Perú and the United States. These included the Boston University College of Fine Arts, the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Peruvian social science and arts organizations. The focus of that effort was to advance health literacy about personal and household hygiene. The series of performances was developed in and presented with people living in two neighboring shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima, Perú.

CRI’s experience in Perú helped us create a larger framework for using the arts to advance health literacy and improve the health of people living in low-income communities.

CRI Theater for Health is currently in development with several CRI partner sites.

How We’re Making a Difference

In Perú, we measured levels of disease-causing germs in homes built from materials scavenged from garbage dumps, and whose water – used for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes, and cleaning – was not safe for consumption. Through pre- and post-performance sampling of home surfaces and first-hand observation of hygiene practices, the program tracked statistically significant decreases in the amount of e coli and listeria in food preparation areas, as well as increases in knowledge and changes in behaviors as a result of the performances.


Evaluation is a key and robust part of CRI Theater for Health. Qualitative and quantitative methods are used, exact indicators of change will vary to reflect the focus of the intervention at each site.

Evaluation can include testing participants’ physical health, assessment of the implementation and impact of the program on participants’ behaviors, changes in knowledge, changes in behaviors, and process evaluation to monitor and document the program for future replication.