EXPERIMENTS AND STRATEGIES
Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) Theater Program: NSF ADVANCE at the University of Michigana
Interactive theater can be used to build community, raise awareness, and stimulate discussion.b It has been used to confront issues that are difficult to resolve due to conflicts between ideals and practice.c The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) Theater Program, sponsored by the NSF ADVANCE program at the University of Michigan, uses interactive performances to demonstrate how faculty interactions shape and reflect the climate. They have developed performances that explore search committee discussions of job candidates, mentoring of junior faculty, and committee meeting discussions of tenure candidates. The performances are based on extensive faculty interviews, focus groups, and faculty and administrative consultation and review conducted at the University of Michigan.
The main component of the CRLT Theater Program is the CRLT Players, a theater troupe composed of professional and student actors who use interactive sketches to draw attention to everyday issues in academe surrounding pedagogy, diversity, and inclusion. Using research from the experiences of faculty members and students, the players present different viewpoints to draw the audience in with a mix of comedy and drama. At the end of the show, the actors continue to play their roles during a question-and-answer session with the audience.
In one theater presentation, the CRLT Players enact a meeting of search committee for a faculty position in the computer science department. The actors discuss which of two candidates—one man, one woman—they should hire. The five men and one woman simulating the search committee debate their research backgrounds, credentials, potential family plans, and gender diversity in the department. The scene ends with the chair stating that he would give the name of the man candidate to the dean for hiring. After the presentation, faculty observing the skit question the actors, who, in turn, answer the questions while remaining in character. The audience is allowed to critique the discussions and results of the search committee.