- A Note from the Editor
In many interestingly revealing ways, the essay submissions sent in to Theatre Topics attest to the impressive reach and constant evolution of theatre in the twenty-first century. Renowned New Republic critic, playwright, editor, and translator Eric Bentley, who favored outside-of-the-box theatre, would be pleased at the nine essays gathered here for Theatre Topics’ September 2008 issue. In The Theatre of Commitment, he wrote,
artists who are not searching, not reaching out for anything, but working comfortably within their established resources, and who are completely lacking in daring, who never “cock a snoot,” “take a crack” at anything, “stick their necks out”—for them should be reserved the harshest adjective in the critical vocabulary: innocuous.
In line with Bentley’s assessment, I am pleased to report that each essay that follows reveals innovative ideas about contemporary theatre that is quite daring—theatre that strives to distance itself from the innocuous. Indeed, the range of discussions that follow emphasizes the versatility of contemporary theatre as a major teaching tool that, if presented with an ample amount of sensitivity and savvy, yields tolerance within the classroom and fosters citizenship and self-awareness outside of it and into the global arena. From the international stage to the front of the college classroom, theatre today is as stimulating, controversial, and efficacious as ever!
Several authors turn their attention to theatre audiences by acknowledging the unrecognized instructive power they wield during the theatre experience. In “From Guest to Witness: Teaching Audience Studies in Postsecondary Theatre Education,” for example, Monica Prendergast stringently argues against the common practice of referring to theatre audience as “guests.” Spurred on by what she believes is an inappropriate reference, she argues that “the use of the term . . . when referring to audience is symptomatic of the deep abyss dividing artists and audiences in contemporary mainstream theatre practices.” Her essay is concerned with teaching students how to be “active and critical spectators of theatre” and, by doing so, fill an important gap in a postsecondary theatre education. Suzanne Burgoyne and colleagues also take up the cause of the audience in “Investigating Interactive Theatre as Faculty Development for Diversity.” Here, they argue for closer attention to audience feedback in devising new teaching strategies. By adopting “a qualitative social science approach to theatre audience analysis,” they advocate that “audience response may help theatre educators generate ideas for practice.” With the use of focus groups and follow-up e-mail surveys, Burgoyne and her research colleagues surveyed this controlled audience and interpreted its feedback through two different theoretical lenses: self-efficacy theory and critical race theory.
Still other essays demonstrate how theatre provides solutions to troubling issues in the classroom as well as in life. Having lived in Quito, Ecuador for five years, author Daniel Bryan returned to the United States to find disturbing levels of apathy among south Texas students. After signing on to create a theatre program at a local community college, he was instinctively led to reshape the methodology of his theatre class to rid students of this contagion. His essay, “Acting Activism: ‘Introduction to Theatre’ Confronts Student Apathy,” is based upon his philosophy that teaching is activism, and that part of his responsibility as an educator is to empower students to develop a consciousness of their roles in the world. [End Page 1]
Two essays in this issue continue to advance the discussion on culture and the international stage that was introduced in our previous issue of Theatre Topics. Andrew Kimbrough and Zhiguang Liu’s “Taking The Heidi Chronicles to China: A Dramaturgical Reflection” reminds those contemplating taking American plays abroad of the delicate dance that must occur to avoid appearances of “masked colonial or hegemonic beliefs that practitioners unknowingly bring to a project.” The authors share lessons learned from their summer 2007 adventures while taking a group of Louisiana State University students on tour in China to perform Wendy Wasserstein’s well-received play, The Heidi Chronicles. The experience prompts them to ask the following question: Are such projects actually fostering understanding and cultural sharing, or are they merely reifying existing hegemonic structures and painful misconceptions?
Lisa Peschel and Alan...