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Common Good Players present, perform at conference on using theater for social change

By Dave Larsen

The University of Dayton’s Common Good Players took its show on the road this summer, presenting and performing at an international conference dedicated to using theater as a means to promote social change in Chicago.

Seven students and two faculty attended the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference, May 26-29, at Loyola University Chicago. They also participated in a three-day pre-conference workshop with Julian Boal, son of the late Brazilian playwright and political activist Augusto Boal, who founded Theatre of the Oppressed in the 1970s.

Originally developed out of the elder Boal’s work with peasant and worker populations, Theatre of the Oppressed seeks to transform audiences into active participants in the theatrical experience. Boal’s method is used globally for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building and therapy.

“It is a practical set of tools to use with community members — so you don’t need to be an actor to engage it — in order to dialogue and problem-solve about issues in their communities,” said Michelle Hayford, associate professor and director of the Theatre, Dance and Performance Technology program.

Julian Boal continues his father’s work at the School of Popular Theatre in Rio de Janeiro and at Theatre of the Oppressed training sessions across the globe.

“The fact that the students actually got to learn the system, techniques and ways Julian Boal is continuing to evolve the methods to meet current needs was really transformational,” Hayford said. 

Jada Gee, a senior theater major from Dayton and the 2019 McIntosh Scholarship recipient, is an actor and mediation intern for the City of Dayton. She said Boal’s training in “forum theater,” a participatory drama technique based on Theatre of the Oppressed, will help her become a drama therapist.

“We all want to treat a conflict in different ways, whether it be avoidance, arguing, mediation, protesting or, in the worst-case scenario, violence,” Gee said. “Forum theater allows people to simulate all those possibilities and gives autonomy to the audience to have their opinion. I want to create that space of autonomy for my audience or my future clients.”

Gee attended the workshop and conference as a member of the Common Good Players, an applied theater troupe founded in 2019 that uses theater techniques to promote dialogue in educational and developmental settings. Directed by Hayford, the troupe also has featured Jerome Yorke, assistant professor of theater, who was a presenter at the Chicago conference.

The Common Good Players is a performing arts scholarship program open to students of all backgrounds and majors. The troupe engages the campus and Dayton communities in performance, seminars and training that highlight social issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion.

In February 2020, the group donned angel wings and performed at a Fitz Center for Leadership in Community event that commemorated victims of the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District and engaged community members in discussions about curbing gun violence at the city, state and national levels.

In March 2020, the Common Good Players collaborated with Tim Eatman of Rutgers University to co-facilitate workshops for UD faculty and administrators about creating more equitable tenure and promotion policies.

During the 2022 spring semester, the group worked with Dayton Children’s Hospital on role-play scenarios to improve the communication of hospital administrators and staff with patients’ families.

At the conference, the Common Good Players presented a chronology of their projects and performed scenes from their work with Eatman and the hospital workers. The students also performed scenes they developed during the workshop with Boal as part of the conference’s opening plenary session.

Hayford said the students’ presentation was well received by attendees.

“It was so well-received that I’ve had several people email me after the fact, two of whom want to hire our students when they graduate,” she said.

For more information, visit the Department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Technology and the Common Good Players websites.

Photo: (left to right) Anna Kopsick, Gwyn Lee, Jada Gee, Caroline Herling, Darian Watson and Logan Groff perform in May in Chicago.

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