HEALING THEATRE: Grad student uses drama to help resolve conflicts - Feb 20, 2014 - Communicating Arts Department - UW-Superior News and Events

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HEALING THEATRE: Grad student uses drama to help resolve conflicts

Posted on Feb 20, 2014
Theatre isn't only about Shakespeare and grease paint.
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Why did Simona Simkins chose UW-Superior for graduate school? She says its because the university gives her the chance to work closely with faculty while diving deeper into a subject shes passionate about.

Why did Simona Simkins chose UW-Superior for graduate school? She says it's because the university gives her the chance to work closely with faculty while diving deeper into a subject she's passionate about.

According to Simona Simkins, a UW-Superior graduate student in communicating arts, theatre can be a powerful, practical tool to help groups of people work through conflict.

For nearly 20 years, Simkins has been guiding groups in applied theatre experiences to help them work through difficult issues.

"Applied theatre brings different kinds of theatre techniques and experiences into a community that's going through a problem or a conflict," she says. "It's not staged in a theatre. You go to a prison or a community center or school and take theatre to them."

THEATRE OF THE PEOPLE

Simkins gave a presentation on forum theatre, a form of applied theatre, at a recent Diversity Summit at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She also will present at the UW-System's American Multicultural Student Leadership Conference at UW-Green Bay in April.

Forum theatre is a method pioneered by Brazilian dramatist Augusto Boal that breaks down the invisible wall between actors and audience.

Forum theatre scripts often involve injustice or oppression. When an actor is about to be oppressed in a scene, audience members can call "freeze" to stop the action of the play. They either call out suggestions or take the stage themselves to try to produce a different outcome. The actors, meanwhile, try to steer action in the direction of the original script.

Unlike traditional theatre, there's no curtain, nor is there an authority figure to decide which ending is the "correct" one.

Simkins did a forum theatre workshop on racism for a Department of Health and Human Services convention last fall. "It was a really positive experience and people in the workshop walked away feeling not defensive, but that they came away with some tools they could use in conflict situations," she said.

'A LOT LIKE LIFE'

Simkins, who earned her undergraduate degree in theatre studies at Emory University, says forum theatre takes the excitement of live theatre one step further.

"Not knowing where it will land is part of the great thing, and the frustrating thing at the same time," she said. "That's a lot like life, really."

Simkins also has received a Making Excellence Inclusive grant to work with students in applied theatre. She has put together Superior Interaction, a troupe of six students from across campus that uses theatre to delve deeper into issues of diversity, social justice and communicating across cultures.

The group will develop a script drawn from their experiences, present a half-hour program and then open it up for a question-and-answer session.

"I love working with undergraduate students," Simkins says. "I really exciting time in people's lives."

WHY SUPERIOR?

Simkins chose UW-Superior for her graduate studies because the university gives her the chance to work closely with faculty while diving deeper into a subject she's passionate about.

"Superior is an exemplar of liberal arts learning. Faculty and staff across disciplines have supported my work. From Communicating Arts to the Office of Multicultural Affairs to the Human Behavior, Justice and Diversity department, I have found encouragement and guidance throughout my time here," she said.


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