The purpose of this mixed methods study was to evaluate the effect of participation in the "Seasoned Arts At the Samford for You" (SAASY) programme, which included a 6-week acting class and four public performances, on the psychological well-being and health-related quality of life of older adults. Twelve older adults with chronic conditions from a low-income senior apartment and a senior living community participated in the programme. The acting class, led by two professional artists, met for a 2-hour class weekly for six weeks. Participants completed the General Well-being Schedule (GWBS) and the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) both at the beginning of the programme and one month after the programme ended. In addition, participants were individually interviewed to explore the perceived impact of the theatre programme on their well-being. Participants reported a significantly higher score in the GWBS and on the physical but not on the mental component summary of the SF-36 at post-SAASY programme. Content analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that participants attained an improved sense of self-worth and self-advocacy and overcame self-imposed limitations. Results showed improvement in psychological well-being and health-related quality of life, most notably in the physical health component of SF-36 after participating in the programme. Practice implications for occupational therapists using drama as a creative leisure occupation to promote health among older adults with chronic conditions may involve analysis of participants' occupational profile, identification of deficit areas and adaptation of the acting programme content to meet specific needs and goals. The present study used a pretest and post test one group design that has numerous inherent limitations that affect the ability to make valid inferences from study findings. A more rigorous research design with a wait-listed control group and collection of outcome measures immediately after the acting class as well as at three months follow-up is essential in validating the present findings. Outcome measures used in future studies to evaluate the health benefits of a theatre programme should focus on ameliorating the effects of disease on disability (such as functional mobility, everyday cognitive function and activities of daily living) in addition to prevention. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.