Bullying, harassment and discrimination are hot button issues in today’s society. One group of Missouri State University students is working to address those issues one set of leaders at a time.
Under the direction of Dr. Carol J. Maples, the Giving Voice Theatre Troupe develops workshops to help business and community leaders better understand issues of oppression, micro-aggression and discrimination.
“Much diversity training today is done over a computer or lecture, and we lose the chance of dealing with actual people,” explained Corey Hollander, troupe member and BFA acting major. “Giving Voice lets the audience ask questions to the characters.”
Known as participatory theatre, each Giving Voice presentation is a little different from the last due to audience participation and the needs of the group. The troupe even develops custom scripts for groups, like the international company of John Deere Reman.
Maples worked with the company to collect employee survey results and stories to inform the troupe’s performance, which was delivered this fall to John Deere Reman’s leadership team of 40 managers from around the world.
“It was nerve-racking to present in front of them at first…but as we settled in, I felt much more comfortable,” said Hollander. “I believe all of them walked away from the presentation seeing things in a different light or more aware of stereotypes that we sometimes accidentally create.”
Customization allows Hollander and the other Giving Voice troupe members to present a scenario that directly addresses the challenges facing a specific company. Hollander describes the scripting process as a back-and-forth between improvised acting and intentional integration of moments of oppression.
“Many people are unsure about stopping oppression or they’re afraid of making it worse. But, when you’re in a participatory theatre, there is no right answer, and at the end of the session, no one holds any remorse,” said Hollander. “After all, they’re just characters and dealing with someone that is made up is a lot less frightening than damaging real world relationships.
“The main reason I’ve seen this troupe grow from just classroom presentations to presenting on a national stage is that we take the issue, and we take the oppression, and we give it a name, a face, a story and a life.”