David S. Sollish and Macaela M. Carder

Humanities Troupe members David S. Sollish (left) and Macaela M. Carder rehearse a scene for an upcoming class performance.

Humanities Troupe dramatizes diversity issues across campus

Messages about diversity and social issues will be dramatically communicated across campus this year. The newly formed Humanities Troupe will use theatre to address topics such as race, gender and body issues—sensitive subjects that can be difficult to broach without raising defenses.

“Part of what theatre can do is make ideas that seem abstract and distant much more real and present,” according to Dr. Michael Ellison, theatre and film, and faculty supervisor of the new theatre company.

The troupe came into being this summer with support from President Ribeau’s Cabinet following a proposal from the Diversity Liaison Committee (DLC), a campuswide committee charged with promoting diversity and assisting the Office of Equity and Diversity in monitoring the implementation of the BGSU Diversity Plan.

The committee sponsored a campus visit from SST, a Chicago theatre company that gave performances about diversity to students, staff and the president’s expanded Cabinet. Their shows were very effective, said Kim Kirkland, equity and diversity, who is co-chair of the DLC with Marshall Rose, director, equity
and diversity.

“We asked ourselves how we could embed this kind of just-in-time, small- or large-scale diversity training into our culture for our own faculty, staff and students,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ellison and Dr. Ronald Shields, chair of the department, had for several years wanted to create such a troupe, but the resources were lacking. Last April, when they proposed the Humanities Troupe in collaboration with the DLC, it became apparent it was an idea whose time had come, they say.

With a three-year commitment and funding for four graduate assistants, the troupe was born. It took its name from a similar group spearheaded in the 1990s by Dr. Norm Myers, a now-retired theatre professor.

Current members Macaela M. Carder, a continuing Ph.D. student; David S. Sollish, an incoming Ph.D. student, and master’s degree students J. Michael Bestul and Diane Sullivan meet 10 hours per week to work on scenes and vignettes, writing some pieces themselves and using clips from already written pieces to develop a repertoire.

Also involved are sophomores Julio Mata and Amanda Clements.

“Most theatre practitioners are doing their theatre for a reason,” said Sullivan. “We like the feeling that we are doing something valuable, and we have high hopes and big goals. Theatre is an art and a performance, but it can do so much more. It can be an icebreaker and a connection. It can say to people ‘Look around you—there are things to see.’”

The troupe will be communicating with campus areas such as Residence Life, the Wellness Center and Greek Life to identify topics of concern to BGSU students and staff. They work closely with the DLC as well. “We’re also looking at issues such as alcohol and drugs, sexual harassment, workplace violence and conflict resolution,” Kirkland said.

“We want to awaken consciousness in our audiences and then to take it a step further to say ‘These are the issues, but what actions can we take to address them?’” Ellison said. “If someone makes a hurtful comment, for instance, what can I do or say to counter that?”

'What I love about theatre is that its power to change people’s lives is huge'Ellison

Kirkland agreed, noting that when the troupe previewed one of its first pieces, “Label Me,” for the committee, “it was so impactful I felt it in my heart. When you ‘freeze-frame’ the action and reflect on what you’ve just seen, you realize you don’t know what you don’t know.”

The Humanities Troupe will present at least 10 performances a year and will perform for classes and offices as well. The company will use several models for its presentations, including improvisation and interactive models such as “talk-back” theatre, in which the audience has the opportunity to both interact with the actors and discuss the issues portrayed.

“We’re not here to give answers. We’re here to open dialogue,” Sullivan said. “With one project,
we’re already meeting with a psychology class to model specific behaviors for a case study of
certain disorders.”

While the Humanities Troupe was being designed, Ellison happened to meet with a number of theatre professionals involved in social justice issues. The result was the planning of a series of visits to BGSU by some leading individuals and groups in the field of theatre of social concerns.

On Nov. 4, David Kaye, from the University of New Hampshire, will come to BGSU to present two workshops on improvisation-based techniques for addressing social justice issues.

Ten days later, the troupe and other campus groups will have another opportunity to theatrically explore social justice concerns. Fringe Benefits, from Los Angeles, has a grant to conduct free “social justice institutes” around the country. Two members of that company will be coming to BGSU Nov. 14-20 to conduct workshops to raise awareness about sexism. Participants in those workshops will create a series of vignettes to be performed by the troupe on campus next spring.

“We’ve invited other groups such as residence halls, the Greek organizations, the Counseling Center, the Women’s Center and Vision to participate,” said Sullivan. “We want to get the community involved and do cross-curricular activities.”

Faculty and staff who wish to participate are encouraged to email, said Ellison.

“We think the troupe will be able to address various needs and issues in a variety of venues,” Kirkland said. “When people get involved in an experiential exercise, it’s much more effective than making them feel they’re being preached to. We can reach a broader spectrum of people but in a smaller setting.”

October 24, 2005