“The Ghosts of Waller Creek”: An Exploration of the Use of Applied Theatre and Site-Specific Performance as Methods for Public Participation in a City Planning Process




Dahlenburg, Michelle Hope

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Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin



In this thesis, I explore applied theatre and site-specific performance workshops as methods for public participation in city planning. “The Ghosts of Waller Creek” program worked to foster interest in and facilitate dialogue around the redevelopment of an abandoned urban creek area in Austin, TX. I explore three guiding questions: How does an applied theatre practitioner foster collaboration with non-theatre artists on a creative project that achieves common goals? How can applied theatre and site-specific performance workshops and events foster place attachment and engage citizens in city planning? How does an applied theatre practitioner translate participatory, applied theatre workshops into an artifact that is useful to city planners? Using reflective practitioner research processes and qualitative coding methods, I examine these questions through an analysis of surveys, interviews, performances, discussions, field notes, and observations. vii I first explore the role that goals, communication, and reflection played in my partnership with an urban designer. I then use place attachment theory to examine how the workshops and events shifted participants’ interest in, and engagement with, Waller Creek and city planning. Next, I investigate how performative artifacts such as audio maps and interactive performances can communicate participants’ opinions about Waller Creek to city planners and to the general public. Finally I discuss how the project situates in the field of arts-based civic dialogue and address guidelines for future projects. This thesis invites applied theatre practitioners to consider how their work can contribute to arts-based civic dialogue in their own communities.

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