Theatre as Service

March 15, 2012

theatre for social change
Chelsea Swearingen '12, Taylor Sorrel '12, and Alexis Riley '12 lead a theatre workshop for Fern Creek Elementary students. (Photo by Samantha Jackson ’13)


Associate Professor of Theatre David Charles is no stranger to improvisation. For several years, he has served as both director and regular performer at SAK Comedy Lab, a local improvisational theatre venue. Improv has sharpened his wit and strengthened his ability to think on his feet—skills that came in handy when he recently redesigned his Theatre for Social Change course to include a community engagement (CE) component.

“The course introduces and explores modern theatrical practices that facilitate heightened social awareness and/or change,” Charles explained. “But in order for it to have a CE designation, the course needed to be rebuilt from the ground up and earnestly balance the pedagogy while meeting the needs of both our students and our community partner.”

Charles decided to partner with Fern Creek Elementary, with which Rollins already has a longstanding relationship, and he connected with two fifth grade classes that each have 18 to 20 students. “We go there on Mondays during our regular class time and have started by teaching the students basic improvisational skills, which in the process, teach interpersonal communications skills such as listening.”

Charles and his class will visit Fern Creek eight times over the course of the semester. After they move on from improv, Charles will introduce devised theatre, a form of drama that encourages participants to create short plays based on the students’ stories. These plays, which tackle issues such as bullying and exclusion, are performed collaboratively with the Rollins and Fern Creek students. In the third unit, he will have the students do playback theatre, which requires the participants to hear a story and then spontaneously perform it as a play.

For theater major Chelsea Swearingen ’12, the experience has been rewarding and somewhat surprising. “I am very much enjoying this class because I can see the effect of the work we've done on campus in preparation for our time with the Fern Creek students,” she said. “It is surprising and extremely encouraging that they are so enthusiastic about our material.”

“It’s exciting, but it’s also nerve-wracking,” said Charles, who believes strongly that all theatre is an act of service. “Adding the CE component was a natural extension of the course. Going into this program with Fern Creek is giving our students the opportunity to give back to the community. It’s amazing how much pride my students already have about what they do."


By Kristen Manieri

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