In Moulton Center 230, five actresses are about to play the roles of Chapman freshmen watching the yearly Healthy Panther display. It’s a scene they are workshopping. The twist? Some of the women are posing as men and harassing the women next to them, making unwanted advances.
“This actually happened in real life, believe it or not,” said junior theatre performance major Melissa Marino, as she cringed at the thought of it.
This acting demonstration is taking place in the Theatre for Social Change class, which uses a type of performance called “forum theatre.” It’s used to showcase (usually) hypothetical scenes of social injustice and allow audiences to get up on their feet and act alongside the actors on stage in an attempt to remedy the problem presented.
Think of it like a live episode of “What Would You Do?” except you would be able to walk into your TV screen and call out that sexist waiter for real.
“Theatre puts people in a space together and creates an environment where everyone is truly communicating in real time. In our class, we’re breaking down the barrier that divides actor from audience. We’re getting the audience to get out of their seats, try new things and actively participate in the theatrical event,” said class professor Theresa Dudeck.
The Healthy Panther example is a scenario that all Chapman students can easily relate to and join in on, but what about outside the campus bubble? Elly Bannon, senior theatre technology major, divulges how she plans to use what she’s learned about forum theatre in her future career in advertising:
“I’ve always wanted to take my passion for theater one step further. I’m interested in how theater can be applied in a corporate environment, especially in terms of dealing with issues of power struggle.”
She goes on to describe the impact Theatre for Social Change could have on anyone’s life, not just thespians:
“Theater and the general engagement of art is something that anyone can relate to, regardless of their background. Theater for Social Change can be both incredibly powerful and realistic, it just needs to be done properly with people who are passionate and can identify and understand the problem at hand.”
Carter Bostwick, senior theatre performance major, shares how the class informs hands-on learners and leaves them with something poignant to reflect on:
“Learning by doing instead of just seeing or being told what to do helps you understand why you would actually want to make that change in yourself and others. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is, the point is to create live art that touches someone in their own personal way and to incite something.”
In the past, the class has performed on campus in front of fraternities and sororities, highlighting the importance of sexual consent. The class is hoping to soon line up workshop performances at campus events like Healthy Panther or Chapman’s Centro Comunitario de Educación library in downtown Santa Ana. Dudeck is also hopeful for potential growth for forum theatre at Chapman beyond the classroom:
“I want to create an applied theater troupe on Chapman’s campus made up of students from a variety of disciplines, undergraduates, graduates, faculty members, with the goal of presenting a lot of different theater structures to the Chapman community and beyond on a regular basis. These performances are really just a new way of thinking and solving problems and I would love to share it with as many people as we can.”
For now, the Theatre for Social Change class will continue to workshop their scenes diligently, inspiring audiences to get up and take a stand against injustice.