A new, interdisciplinary community based learning course in theater and social justice was offered at Georgetown University for the first time during the spring 2007semester. The course, Theater as Social Change, integrates community theater and community based research to identify and analyze issues identified by the students who work with community partners to create original scripts for theatrical performances. Students work in small and large groups to develop issues oriented materials that are used as a basis for the scripts. The resulting theatrical productions are held both on campus and in the community. The culminating project/productions have been amazing.
The course has been taught by Karen Berman, Adjunct Professor of Theater and longstanding Advisor to Georgetown Theater groups under Student Affairs; Sam Marullo, Chairperson and Professor of Sociology; and Carol Day, Director of Health Education Services. This upcoming spring Natsu Onoda will replace Karen Berman from the Theater Department. The course is one of the Engelhard courses; a new model of curriculum infusion of health issues which engages students in learning about themselves and others through a more interpersonal perspective. Health professionals partner with faculty to make links between the academic and the personal.
Theoretically based on change theory, the students conduct research including asset mapping and interviews with community partners in order to analyze community problems. Community partners so far have included students from Ballou High School and senior citizens from Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. The plays, based on the lives of community partners, have been written in their own words. Issues including race relations, displacement, loss, sexual identity, and educational challenges pertinent to inner city schools have formed the basis for the theatrical productions.
Due to the intense nature of the content and the expectations for creative performance, students have to gather data, integrate materials quickly, understand social norms, and work collaboratively across cultures.
In addition to the Engelhard grant the course has also been supported by The 3M Vision grant, and the departments of Theater, Sociology, and Health Education.
Here is what the students in the course had to say in their Final Reflections…
I believe that the relationship between Georgetown students and the Washington community allowed us not only to learn about theater and sociological research, but also to share experiences and become for a few months a part of this slice of the District’s history.
Many of us were out of our element traveling to an impoverished southeast DC neighborhood. But social change cannot be done from the confines of an office; the activist must do extensive field work.
Every week we faced new challenges and times of necessity are often times of growth. The kids were so invested and I was so invested, I kept finding ways that I could give more of myself, more time, more flexibility, and more risk.
Through the interview and research process, I have learned a great deal about what demographic change in D.C. looks like from the perspective of those who participated in it. Many of the church members were part of the “white flight” that occurred in Washington during the 1950s and 60s.This process has shown me that personal experiences can illuminate and nuance a past which is often portrayed in simplistic black and white.
The Hoya had this to say about the course…
Throughout history, the theater has often been a powerful indicator of a society, as well as a tool for social progress. Karen Berman and Carol Day, the director of Heath Education Services at Georgetown, aim in this class to combine oral histories, modern documentaries and self inspection to teach students to harness the power of acting to make a difference in society. The class works with the community at large to specifically change a problem that affects the local area. It’s perfect for any student with an interest in social justice and the acting chops to make a statement.
(The Hoya, January 11, 2008)