Investigating Interactive Theatre as Faculty Development for Diversity
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Investigating Interactive Theatre as Faculty Development for Diversity

Introduction

The scene: A seminar on audience response at an American Society for Theatre Research conference. One of the authors of this article, having discovered that every paper in the seminar relied solely on theory, innocently raised the question, “Why not ask the audience how they actually responded to the performance?”—thus triggering the hostile response, “Social science research is worthless! You can make numbers say anything you want them to say!”

Overviews of research into drama education in K–12 education discuss negative attitudes toward applying social science research methods to performance as a possible cause for the scarcity of well-designed studies, which are even more scarce in higher education. Taylor suggests that “[d]rama educators may have unwittingly contributed to a distrust of research given their own value-laden prejudices about what researchers do and the meaningful application of research in practice” (x). Jackson argues that social science research into educational drama “has been not just minimal, but actually resisted. . . . [T]here has also been a FEAR OF RESEARCH” (35).1

The following article presents our analysis of audience reactions to an interactive theatre (IT) project intended to raise faculty awareness of multicultural dimensions of teaching. Through sharing our study, we hope to demonstrate that engaging in social science research on audience response may help theatre educators to generate ideas, hypotheses, and suggestions for practice. Our research method is grounded theory, a qualitative social science approach in which the data to be analyzed are texts rather than numbers. Through focus groups and follow-up e-mail surveys, we asked audience members to tell us how they reacted to the performance.2 Only after using grounded theory to analyze these reactions did we interpret our findings through two different theoretical lenses, self-efficacy theory and critical race theory.

Project Background: Why Perform Interactive Theatre on Multicultural Issues in Higher Education and Why Research Audience Response?

From 2003 to 2006, the University of Missouri (MU) participated in a multi-campus program sponsored by the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. MU joined the “cluster” of campuses headed by the University of Michigan, whose Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) has housed an IT program since 2000.3 Michigan’s cluster shared an interest in encouraging faculty to engage with cultural differences in their classrooms.4 MU’s interdisciplinary campus team also wanted to learn how to implement IT, using CRLT’s program as a model.5

CRLT’s IT methods draw upon Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), founded by Augusto Boal and based on Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed theory. According to Brazilian theatre educator [End Page 107] and activist Boal, theatre’s tradition of monologue, directed from stage to audience, serves to silence and oppress popular audiences. Boal argues for theatrical forms that break down the separation between stage and audience, changing monologue into dialogue. The spectator becomes “spect-actor,” as audience members are invited onstage. In one TO technique, Forum Theatre, actors create and present short scenes that represent problems within a community. Spect-actors participate by calling “stop,” replacing an actor, and trying out multiple solutions. Actors and spect-actors join in dialogue about the solutions and their outcomes. Eliminating the distance between stage and audience stimulates audience members to imagine change, practice change, reflect on action, and thus become empowered to generate change in their communities (Boal).

CRLT’s theatre program has developed interactive performances, based on research findings, “to engage faculty and graduate students in discussions of multicultural teaching and learning and institutional climate.”6 In the only published report on this program to date, Kaplan, Cook, and Steiger present strong claims that the program works, evidence for those claims, and explanations based on current learning theories. Because their report was published in Change, a magazine that informs higher educators about progressive practices through short articles, the authors lacked space to elaborate on their theoretical perspectives or research methods. One of the goals of our campus project was to advance the IT research agenda by applying...


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