Resisting slactorvism : toward theatrical activism in service of organizing beyond the stage

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Joaquin, Anna Michaela Rogelio

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While theatre practitioners often intend to create art in service of social change, academic theatre and performance studies programs do not adequately prepare artists to do so. Despite their interdisciplinary nature and bridging of theory and practice, these programs often neglect the opportunity to ground theatrical training in theories of social change (Dolan 53). As a result, many professional artists are poised to make work with activist aims detached from the political analysis necessary to responsibly and effectively work toward concrete goals. This thesis puts social change studies and performance studies in conversation with each other, drawing on theories of organizing, artistic activism, and privileged spectatorship. I first frame organizing as the most effective theory of social change—a tactic I believe to have strong potential for collaboration with theatrical events. Then, I examine strengths and limitations of theatre as artistic activism, naming The Center for Artistic Activism’s concept of AEffect as a framework for analyzing impact (Duncombe and Lambert 5). I also introduce applied theatre scholar Dani Snyder-Young’s concept of privileged spectatorship as what theatre is up against (100). These theories inform my methodology for assessing impact of two case studies: Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 2018-2019 production of La Ruta by Isaac Gómez and Gathering Ground Theatre and Tenants Speak Up! Theatre’s 2020 production of A Tale of Two Citizens: A People’s Struggle with Housing in the Capital City. Through a critical discourse analysis of production materials and audience impact surveys, this thesis presents a generative call for a more active assessment of insularity, intentions, and impacts of contemporary theatre pursuing social change, as well as the necessity of resisting slactorvism by ensuring theatrical activism serves organizing beyond the stage.


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