For over a decade, I have facilitated theatre-based programs and workshops in a variety of different settings: schools, prisons, community centers, hospitals, leadership trainings, conferences. I first got into what I would come to know as "applied theatre” in 2006 at Eastern Correctional Facility, a men’s prison in Upstate New York where I’d been volunteering for the previous few years. There, I helped to facilitate a theatre group comprised of incarcerated men, exploring different storytelling techniques, devised work, and putting on full-length plays for public performance. The years I spent with the men at Eastern were invaluable and expanded my view of what theatre could do. When I moved to New York City, I continued to work with people incarcerated in prisons in New York and Connecticut, and began working more with young people in schools and in out-of-school programs. I hungered for more training and, in 2012, completed a Masters in Applied Theatre at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. From there, I went on to work even more as an applied theatre facilitator and teaching artists in different settings. As valuable as my formal education was, what I learned from the people I worked with in the many spaces I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into was incomparable.
Broadly speaking, applied theatre is a collection of practices using theatre techniques to support objectives beyond just entertainment, often outside of traditional theatre spaces and involving community members who are not necessarily professional artists. The work I’ve done in these spaces has had many objectives but always involves people using the arts to connect more deeply with one another, to explore urgent questions within our communities, to play, create, subvert power dynamics, build confidence and trust, and test what is possible.
Since moving back to the Bay Area, much of the work I have done in the realm of applied theatre has been in medical schools and hospital programs. I was a consultant with Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre department, supporting the development of a mental health-based high school program. I have also been working at UCSF, Stanford, and San Francisco State University as a standardized patient, acting as a patient in many different simulated scenarios so that medical students and other healthcare learners can practice a range of clinical and interpersonal skills, and receive feedback.
I believe that the arts, and theatre in particular, are essential to a healthy society, and can do so much more than simply entertain us or provide us with a temporary escape. They help us to articulate both what is and what could be, to grapple with complexity and nuance, and to re-imagine our world and our role in it.