When the opportunity arose for me to interview for the Interactive Theater as Pedagogy Project (ITPP), a collaboration between the UW Center for Teaching and Learning and the community theater organization Memory War Theater, I had no idea what interactive theater was or what I was getting myself into. After a quick google search and scan of the ITPP website, I came away with some basic themes; anti-oppression, inclusivity, solidarity, community dialogue, and social change. As a social work student, this was music to my ears and I eagerly came aboard. Now, about a month into my practicum placement, I’ve had the chance to witness and work with the students, community members, faculty and staff in preparation for several performances and the experience has been nothing less than transformative. Right now, we’re gearing up to perform the invited keynote presentation at the University of Washington, Tacoma Diversity Summit on February 28. At the Summit, ITPP will perform two interactive plays based on lived experiences with privilege, oppression, and stereotyping. Summit participants will have the opportunity to reflect and engage in collaborative problem-solving, and practice interventions that promote inclusivity and solidarity. In preparation, our office has been a buzz with rehearsals, planning meetings, and troupe debriefing sessions, however, that’s not to say the process isn’t messy. Writing, editing, and blocking a play that presents oppression in a theatrical manner without targeting or triggering cast members personal identities has proven complex and challenging. Performers must not only remain attuned to their own personal experiences with oppression but must also understand their characters identity and be prepared for the uncertainty of interventions from audience participants, requiring them to think on their feet. At the end of every rehearsal the performers take off their characters, sometimes characters are removed like an itchy t-shirt and other times more like a heavy, soaking-wet, stinky, poorly sized sweater. After I participated in my first rehearsal as an audience participant, I went home and thought about what I did and replayed the scene in my head again and again with different outcomes. And while I didn’t come up with a strategy to completely eradicate oppression (I’m still trying, keep ya posted), I did improve my ability to use my own voice, to speak up, and practice solidarity which is an opportunity that rarely presents itself in other workshops and trainings I’ve attended.
But please, don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. Because the part of ITPP that really shines, the bridge it creates between theory and practice, between thinking and doing, between performance and participation is best understood through experience.
Dionne Foster is an MSW candidate at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She professes her new-found love of interactive theater to all who will listen.