Collaborative Theater of Testimony as Critical Performance Pedagogy: Implications for Community Members, Theater Artists, Audience, and Performance Studies Scholars

Claire Deal

Major Professor: Lorraine Brown

Committee Members: Karen Rosenblum, Margaret Yocom

Johnson Center, 240A
November 12, 2008, 07:00 PM to 07:00 PM


This dissertation explores collaborative theater of testimony performance as a form of critical performance pedagogy, examining its transformative and heuristic potential for actors, audience members, and community members. Through an examination of two case studies, the author argues that participation in collaborative theater of testimony performance allows each of these constituents to experience insights about themselves and others that more traditional forms of knowledge acquisition do not or may not allow. As co-constructors of meaning during performance, audience members may experience moments of acute awareness that lead to new ways of seeing themselves and the world. This transformative potential extends to the community members whose experiences are reflected in the performance piece; for example, they may experience healing, vindication, or a sense of empowerment. Finally, collaborative theater of testimony performance challenges actors to address their own perspectives about identity, representation, and difference. Because actors in such performances have worked closely with the people they embody on stage and have developed relationships with them during the production process their experiences differ from performers engaged in more typical rehearsal processes (study the script, learn the lines, rehearse the play). In light of these findings, the author calls for theater practitioners and performance studies scholars to engage their students not only with others across disciplines in their own institutions but also with community members outside the university campus. In so doing, community members, actors, and audience members have the opportunity to experience for themselves the transformative potential of collaborative theater of testimony performance and, ultimately, to use their new knowledge to effect social change.

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