Diversity takes the stage

MU’s Interactive Theatre Troupe brings multicultural issues before audiences and asks for their solutions
Monday, October 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When audiences watch MU’s Interactive Theatre Troupe, they are required to become part of the performance.

The troupe performs pieces involving multicultural issues and then lets the audience take the place of one of the actors and try to solve the problem depicted.

“It’s to raise awareness on the part of faculty and students of the importance of multicultural dimensions of teaching and learning,” said Suzanne Burgoyne, a professor in MU’s Theater Department and leader of the Interactive Theatre Troupe.

Burgoyne works with colleague Clyde Ruffin and an interdisciplinary faculty team on the project. Since its beginning in the fall of 2003, the troupe has grown in popularity.

“I think we did about 10 performances last year, and we’re probably going to be doing about twice that this year,” Burgoyne said.

The group started off performing for faculty groups but has expanded to include campus Freshmen Interest Groups. Eight performances for FIGs are in the works so far.

“There seems to be growing interest,” Burgoyne said. “We’re hoping ultimately to institutionalize this program and make it ongoing.”

Jenny Hart, an assistant professor in the College of Education, has had performances in her classroom and is scheduled to have another performance by the troupe in November.

“Because I teach a college teaching class, it has been a really compelling experience in two ways: one, to show students how to engage in conversation about diversity in their own classrooms, and also how theater can be used as a teaching tool,” Hart said.

The troupe has been performing a piece borrowed from the University of Michigan that addresses race and gender issues in the classroom. It is also putting the finishing touches on a piece that depicts issues of heteorosexism.

“The original version of the new sketch was created by a group of students in my ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ class,” Burgoyne said. “We gave a couple of performances this summer and got feedback and have made further revisions this fall.”

The new piece was previewed recently by a small audience to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.

“From what I have seen in observing the University of Michigan’s Interactive Theatre Troupe, as well as our own experience, a sketch is never done,” Burgoyne said. “It continues to evolve as different actors perform it, different groups request performances and give feedback, etc.”

Developing a new piece usually costs about $3,500, Burgoyne said. By comparison, the University of Michigan’s cost is about $7,000, she said.

MU’s troupe has expanded this year to include 10 actors, mainly students and alumni of the theater department.

Ross Taylor, an actor in the cast, said that he thinks the troupe’s work is worthwhile.

“Opening up dialogues with all ranges of academics reinforces my notion that no one is blind to the cultural progress that is still necessary at the university,” Taylor said.

The actors usually practice three times a week and are paid $8 an hour for performances and rehearsals. Burgoyne insisted troupe members be paid.

“They’re putting in a lot of time, and also this is professional work,” she said. “It’s not part of their course work.”

Burgoyne said she expects the MU program will continue for years to come.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” she said. “It doesn’t immediately change people’s attitudes, but it does allow people to talk and reflect, and we’re hoping that there will be some changes in behavior.”

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