Setting the Stage for Social Justice
Colloberating to Create Activist Theatre
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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When I first encountered Fringe Benefits over twenty years ago, I was delighted to find both camaraderie and inspiration. I had just moved to Southern California with Cornerstone Theater Company, and so it was especially heartening to discover a fellow theatre that shares many of Cornerstone’s and my core beliefs. ...
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What follows is a lively assortment of essays about a unique approach to the collaborative development of activist theatre. The contributing writers describe and critique the theories behind and the play development process involved in Fringe Benefits’ Theatre for Social Justice Institutes, ...
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The collaborative process requires us to rely on the kindness of strangers, friends, family, colleagues, and mentors. We began work on this volume in 2008. Along the way, many lovely people have given us their generous support. First, we would like to thank our spouses, Juhl (Norma) and Jim (Daniel), whose sacrifices often left them in a situation akin to widowhood. ...
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We’re all back on dry land now—more or less—and we’re enjoying a wee rest from our crazy-wild and definitely eventful odysseys. We’ve navigated bumpy roads, treacherous waters, and political, ethical, psychological, legal, and aesthetic minefields. ...
1. Devising Text: Collaborative Decision Making
Central to Fringe Benefits’ Institute play-devising methodology is our “Dramaturgical Quilting Bee,” the painstaking, democratic process through which the participants collaboratively conceive, devise, and edit the script. The essays in this chapter describe and respond to aspects of this process and ...
Teaching without Lecturing: A Lesson in (Re)Writing History
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I know how I got here—curiosity, eagerness, an interview of sorts, a three-legged flight from Los Angeles to Winnipeg—but now that I am here, I am not quite sure what to expect from my first time working with the Theatre for Social Justice Institute. I reach for the illuminating comfort of my lived experience and expertise ...
Brief Encounters between Disciplines and Cultures: An Analysis of the Dramaturgical Quilting Bee
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In 2007, the UK-based gay rights organization Stonewall published a document titled “The School Report,” designed to highlight and tackle homophobic bullying in schools. Alarmingly, it revealed that 65 percent of young lesbian, gay, and bisexual pupils had experienced homophobic bullying in their schools.1 ...
Are You an Inmate? Collective Decision Making in the Development of If Yes, Please Explain . . .
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“It has to be ‘inmate,’” Sandra announced firmly, and the rest of the group fell silent. About thirty of us were gathered to read through a draft of If Yes, Please Explain . . . , a play to promote hiring equality for formerly incarcerated people. Many of the group’s members, myself included, were anxious to begin rehearsals; ...
Writing Conflict Out of Schools
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Creating theatre for social justice is as much about portraying instances of oppression within a community as it is about finding ways to inspire an audience to take action. In 2005, the Theatre for Social Justice Institute team at the University of Iowa wrote a play depicting the discrimination against and abuse of LGBT students in Iowa City high schools. ...
2. Marketing the Revolution: Aesthetics and Impact of Activist Theatre
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In this chapter, we explore if, how, and to what extent activist theatre can change hearts and minds and inspire people to become allies for social justice. Fringe Benefits’ approach to activist theatre borrows a bit from diverse theories and practices in the areas of anti-bias and diversity training, marketing, political science, education, ...
Moving beyond the Comfort Zone: The Quest for Theatre for Social Justice Impact
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In the fall of 2004, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) joined forces with Seacoast Outright, an LGBT youth support organization that serves the Southern Maine/New Hampshire Seacoast region, to host a Theatre for Social Justice Institute (TSJI). UNH has had a student Theatre for Social Justice troupe, WildActs, since 1999. ...
Inspiring Change and Action: Measuring the Impact of Theatre for Social Justice
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In Friendly Fire, Norma Bowles asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could hook up all our audience members to those elaborate machines they use in hospitals to monitor people’s vital signs?!” (154). In this way, she continues, we could measure the impact of the show, distinguish particular characters with which the audience identifies, ...
Sympathy vs. Stigma: Writing the “Victim”
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Kent State University partnered with Fringe Benefits in 2007 to develop a play addressing the homophobic climate on the Kent campuses. While Kent has a reputation as a progressive institution and is home to the first LGBT minor program in the state of Ohio, the local political climate in 2007 had led to a number of homophobic incidents on and around campus. ...
Do Not Try This at Home!
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Dealing with socially charged topics, one is often drawn into a world of prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and invective. These elements are a part of our world, and in Theatre for Social Justice (TSJ), they cannot be ignored. On the contrary, it is (in part) the very presence of behavior that might be viewed as “bad” that makes TSJ so necessary. ...
A Few More Thoughts about Aesthetics
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As mentioned in the introduction, humor is frequently employed as a strategy in Institute plays, perhaps most often when the subject matter is serious. The use of comedy to promote social change has a long tradition. Throughout the world, since long before Aristophanes sent his protagonist Trygaeus to heaven on a dung beetle to bring Peace back to Earth, ...
3. Community and Coalition Building: Reaching beyond the Choir
The essays in this chapter focus on strategies for bringing diverse people, ideas, and talents together and for cultivating environments that foster creative and constructive dialogue about difficult issues. To achieve their activist goals, our Theatre for Social Justice Institute partners generally present their plays to target audiences of people who are not already “on board” with their ideas. ...
Creating Space for Intergenerational LGBT Community and Movement Building
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I was a Girl Scout leader throughout my daughter’s elementary school years—an out lesbian Girl Scout leader in a public school in Iowa. My motivations for leading the troop were many and included my desire to share time with my daughter and her friends, to temper any stigma she might experience as a child of lesbian moms, ...
What Comes Next? A Guide to Organizing, Activating, and Rallying the College Campus
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This is how we did it. From April 15 to April 26, 2005, Fringe Benefits came to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to facilitate a Theatre for Social Justice Institute with the Walking Theatre Project, a student-led collective we cofounded to address challenging social and political issues on Miami’s campus. ...
Rehearsing for Dialogue: Facilitation Training and Miami University’s A More Perfect Union
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The Theatre for Social Justice (TSJ) Institute play A More Perfect Union: A Response to Issue 1 succeeded in many of its goals, primarily in fostering dialogue about Ohio’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, the effect of this ban on our community, and the underlying homophobia within Miami University’s student culture. ...
Pushing without Shoving: Ethics of and Emphasison Target Participation in TSJ Institutes
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The 2006 Theatre for Social Justice Institute with Fringe Benefits, the University of Iowa (UI), and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) focused on issues of cultural competence and racism in local high schools. Participants in the Institute collaborated to create a Forum Theatre play ...
We Are Who We Are: Theatre to Confront Homophobia and Transform Education into Social Praxis
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During my first year teaching at Woodrow Wilson High School, I was asked to sponsor a new club—the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). A small group of students had been working to form this club for some time but had been unable to secure faculty support. Being young, progressive, and naive, I immediately agreed to work with these youth, ...
4. Creating a Safe Space and a Great Show
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There is a raging debate about “Safe Space” in the field of Theatre and Social Change. Fringe Benefits’ position is somewhere in the middle: while our primary focus is on creating effective activist performances, we have taken care to develop a process and a working environment in which everyone feels included, respected, and clear about the “rules of engagement.” ...
It’s Safe to Say
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Exactly what is a “Safe Space” when it comes to working on a collaborative theatre piece? In our experience, it is essential to establish guidelines for Safe Space early in the process, but if you front-load too many safety guidelines, it can actually instill fear or trepidation among the participants, ...
Pronouns, Play Building, and the Principal: Negotiating Multiple Sites of Activism in a Youth-Focused Theatre for Social Justice Project
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It is Day Four of the Minnesota Theatre for Social Justice Institute. The principal of Sunnyside High School, who is attending the workshop for the first time and can stay for only a few hours, just referred to one of his transgender students by the wrong pronoun—again. The workshop session is focused on feverishly editing the play we’ve written. ...
Creativity or Carnage: An International Theatre for Social Justice Project
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This essay explores a collaborative Theatre for Social Justice project that took place in London, United Kingdom, in 2008 and involved fifty participants. The key question we ask is, What are the key challenges when bringing student and community participants together to create theatre? ...
Adapt the Space! Working with People of Diverse Abilities
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Through descriptions of our experiences with the shows As Seen on TV and A Mystical Quest to Slay Normalcy, this essay will detail some of the accommodations and considerations that must be addressed when devising, rehearsing, and performing a show that includes people with disabilities. ...
5. The Many Players: Perspectives on Diverse Project Roles and Responsibilities
In this chapter, collaborators share their “nuts-and-bolts” and critical perspectives about the responsibilities they took on for various Theatre for Social Justice Institutes and productions: project coordinator, show director, counselor, participant, vocal coach, marketing director, and Forum Theatre actor, among others. ...
Ripples over the Great Barrier
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The Bundaberg Region in central Queensland, Australia (population circa 98,000), has a varied landscape ranging from bush to river and sea, from bird-thronged wetlands and turtle nesting beaches to rich-earthed farming country rippling with sugarcane, and sits at the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef. ...
Voicing Your Gender, Gendering Your Voice
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The human voice tells many stories. It is not only the words we use but the way we say them that can reveal a good deal about our age, upbringing, socioeconomic profile, and education; how confident or awkward we are as we conduct ourselves in relationships; our mood and tastes; and our gender. ...
Psychological Reflections on an LGBTQI Theatre for Social Justice Project
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I am a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist experienced in supporting clients regarding a range of mental health, physical health, and sexual health needs. Over the past thirteen years, I have helped many clients presenting with issues relating to their sex, gender, sexual identity, and sexuality, ...
Forum Theatre and the Power of “Yes, and . . .”
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Just about every improv class ever taught has started with a game called “Yes, and . . .” (Seham xxiv). It’s an extremely simple game. Character #1 makes a statement; Character #2 accepts the premise and builds on it. The cat ran away. Yes, and I’m afraid it will get lost. ...
By Hook or by Crook! Luring the Oppressor into the Lair
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As the project coordinator for the Theatre for Social Justice Institute at Kent State in 2007, my jobs were primarily administrative. Guidelines were agreed upon and set for the planning and implementation of the Institute process. Our Kent team, along with Fringe Benefits’ administration, mapped out a detailed schedule ...
6. A Transformative? and Empowering? Experience
The essays in this chapter consist of reflections about the personal impact of facilitating or participating in a Theatre for Social Justice Institute. Community-based arts projects can move people to examine, reexamine, and rededicate their lives. Some people discover strengths and talents they didn’t know they had; others gain tools and inspiration that transform their work and/or their lives. ...
The Wizdom of Us: Reconsidering Identities and Affinities through Theatre for Social Justice
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In the winter of 2004, my Whitworth University colleagues and I decided to host a Theatre for Social Justice Institute focusing on issues of socioeconomic discrimination.1 Our intention was twofold: to create a piece of theatre that would unveil socioeconomic realities in Spokane, and to build bridges between Whitworth and the larger Spokane community.2 ...
Wade in the Water
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I sat on the edge of my seat, five rows from the stage, as the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock sang about wading into the water. Bernice Johnson Regan, with her African robes flowing down, leaned toward her audience of Oberlin College students. ...
True to the Course: The Learning Curve of a New Teaching Artist
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From the moment I met the students in my project-recruitment presentation at Woodrow Wilson High School in East Los Angeles, my sincerity and strength, along with my commitment to tackling discrimination, were under scrutiny. After the paper ball was thrown at me, I hesitated, unsure of how best to handle the situation. ...
Bricks and Stones: Bashing Back with a Fistful of Words
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I came to the Institute because I was pissed off, and I wanted to put my two-cents in with people who were working to find a way to put a stop to all the bullshit and hassles LGBT people deal with just for being gay. I used to be quite shy, and I didn’t expect to tell my story— certainly not to a roomful of strangers where the only familiar face was my mum’s. ...
A Few More Thoughts about Transformation
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A great majority of participants found the Institute experience to be very positive and empowering. They felt that their voices were heard and included, and they believed that they had created exciting and powerful activist theatre. ...
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Amanda Dunne Acevedo is a theatre practitioner in Chicago, where she cofounded Genesis Ensemble. As a theatre teaching artist, she has worked in Chicago schools for Northlight Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and American Theater Company and works internationally and nationally with Fringe Benefits. ...
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Theater in the Americas, Series Statement
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Other Books in the Theater in the Americas Series
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2013