Note: The Interactive Theater As Pedagogy Project was renamed Theater for Change in 2016.
University of Washington, Tacoma Diversity Summit (February 2014)
How do we promote equitable teaching and learning environments? How do we move from witnessing oppression to interrupting oppression? With these questions in mind, the Interactive Theater as Pedagogy Project (ITPP), engaged nearly 150 high school, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrators and community members at the 2014 University of Washington Tacoma Diversity Summit.
Audience members loosened up through participating in icebreakers, moving, playing, and forging connections.
Written and rehearsed by ITPP ensemble members, ITPP performed two Forum Theater plays depicting unresolved, problematic situations that affect the lives of UW community members every day.
“The Sounds of Silencing”
Written by Jun Chen, this play depicts a series of oppressive situations encountered by two international students in a small group discussion. The themes of the play included silencing, centering whiteness, assumptions about certain countries and their people, language discrimination, exoticism, and male privilege.
“Not in My Group”
Written by Chelsea Jennings and Heather Arvidson, explores the manifestation and impact of heterosexism, homophobia, and male privilege on students and addressed the roles of both students and instructors in responding to oppression in the classroom.
In Forum Theater, after the plays are performed once without interruption, the spect-actors have an opportunity to discuss the issues and oppressions they observed, and think about what they might do differently if they could change the scene to a more socially just outcome.
In the second run, the Diversity Summit spect-actors had the opportunity to yell “STOP” when they observed instances of oppression and joined the players on stage to alter the outcome of the play. Several of the spect-actors embraced the second (and third, and fourth) chances the interactive theater process provides, allowing them to intervene and practice strategies to interrupt oppression.
Throughout the day, ITPP facilitators Theresa Ronquillo, Tikka Sears and Jen Self co-created with spect-actors an environment that encouraged critical thinking, participation and risk-taking without fear of judgment or evaluation.
At the close of the day Dr. Sharon Parker, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Equity at the UWT spoke to the feeling of witnessing discriminatory or oppressive acts and not intervening: “My whole life I’ve been writing a book in my head, and that book is all the things I wish I’d said and I’m still writing it. Even though I’ve been doing this work for a long time I’m still learning. I’m still working on rising to situations when they occur and rising appropriately.”
Given Dr. Parker’s sentiments, what are the benefits of the interactive theater process? Participants have the chance to reflect and act on the “I wish I would have said this” and “If only I’d done that” feelings many of us experience in such challenging situations.
Being able to collaboratively problem solve and generate strategies for interrupting oppression enables us to proactively “rehearse” responses in these situations. Moreover, taking action and collective reflection can lead to continued discussion and action-taking on and off the stage. Interactive theater can spark the beginning–not the end–of important conversations.
Forum Theater performance and dialogue event (April 2013)
“Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.” (Augusto Boal)
During academic year 2012-2013, ITPP recruited a group of twenty UW faculty, staff educators, and graduate students to participate in a twelve-week learning community. Through theater games, intergroup dialogue, playwriting, and constant reflection, participants cultivated skills in interactive social change theater to spark dialogue on issues of institutional power, privilege, and oppression. The project culminated in a Forum Theater performance and dialogue event in April 2013, which drew over ninety audience members.
The ITPP players co-wrote and performed three Forum Theater plays depicting unresolved, problematic situations of oppression that affect the lives of UW community members every day.
“Everywhere I Go” focused on heteronormativity and the policing of gender binaries in classroom and social settings.
“It All Flows Downhill” explored power inequities rooted in ethnocentrism and language oppression within a faculty group.
“Out of Time” problematized whiteness and racial microaggressions in teaching and research.
In Forum Theater, plays are performed once without interruption, and then repeated, allowing audience members—“spect-actors”—to enter the scene, take on a character, and transform the oppressive situation. Through interactive theater, the ITPP event prompted reflection, discussion, and the “rehearsal” of a variety of interventions.