This dissertation investigates how diverse communities in the US encounter one another within the framework of dramatic play. I examine the interaction between a Reform synagogue and a black Baptist church, which jointly instituted a theatre project as one of several initiatives to nurture relationship-building and dialogue between their congregants. My research includes ethnographic investigation of the theatre project (which I co-facilitated) and of the communities' other initiatives. I ask: How do participants engage one another within the various initiatives for intercultural encounter? Does theatre-making, as a form of play, invite a different interaction than other initiatives do? To what extent can a robust theorization of play illuminate both the potential and the limitations of the initiatives? I argue that grave historical inequities have produced a status quo of minimal and superficial interracial interaction in the suburb where the two communities are based - but that play sometimes empowers people to deviate from those norms, allowing for productive tension. This tension allows for more nuanced interpersonal relationships and more political, critical dialogue. However, I also argue that while the context of role-play may enable this tension to thrive where it might not otherwise exist, it also obscures people's embeddedness within existing and unequal power systems. Thus, I argue, while dramatic play can be a powerful tool for cultivating intercultural encounters with productive tension, it may be most influential when facilitators also periodically push the players to abandon their assumed identities and reflexively interrogate the intercultural dynamics of their "real" lives.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2014. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisor: Sonja Kuftinec. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 358 pages.
The Harmonics of Intercultural Play: Participatory Theatre Within Interfaith and Interracial Initiatives.
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