Augusto Boal, the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), once said, “We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.” More than 100 local, national, and international changemakers/advocates from various backgrounds/interests gathered at IUPUI in late June 2023 for the 26th Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference (PTO). As a graduate student, I was involved at the conference as a local planning committee member, a presenter, and an attendee.
Though I’m a health communication scholar, theatre has been integral to my graduate studies at IUPUI. I was introduced to the use of applied theatre to disseminate health research in Prof. Larimer’s (Medical Humanities and Health Studies) course called “Dramatic Literature & Medicine.” Realizing theatre’s impact, I brainstormed how my research interest in reproductive health could be further explored through the performing arts. In early 2021, I connected with Prof. Robles (Applied Theatre, Film, and Television) program to discuss how my research could take center stage. With mentorship, I went from very little experience in theatre to creating a research-informed production in a year and a half. Although there was some blood, sweat, and tears during the process, I learned more about myself as a health communication scholar and artist. The project reinforced my passion to pursue arts-based research methods as a researcher.
The performance I created, Am I Broken?, was hosted in Cavanaugh Hall’s black box theatre in early April 2023. The stage reading about women’s experiences about infertility and how they discussed (or not) their health challenges with their friends. The performance’s intent was for the audience to feel informed about infertility; acknowledge how communication influences the way we stigmatize infertility; and, feel comfortable talking about infertility in future conversations. The project was grounded in both Communication Studies, Applied Theatre, and Medical Humanities and Health Studies – an example of interdisciplinary research in liberal arts!
Knowing my project embodied TO principles, Prof. Robles encouraged me to submit a proposal to the conference. Luckily, my proposal was accepted, and I became quickly involved with assisting the local planning committee. Attending PTO was an eye-opening experience, because I attended workshops and panels that I would not have access to at a communication-specific conference. I received feedback during my presentation on how to improve and further my research in using theatre. I participated in a session that helped a Ph.D. student, who was a TO practitioner in Cleveland, on how to use theatre as a component in her dissertation. I watched an emotional performance about the opioid epidemic from a local young professional theatre group. I added a handful of articles and books related to TO and how to assess the arts to my summer reading list. I formed connections with a few of the attendees for future research collaborations. Overall, the conference was a welcoming space that generated new ideas on how to make society a greater, equitable place. In the last session of the conference, the facilitator asked the attendees in the room to share what word they were feeling at that point in time. I said I was energized. For me, attending PTO generated new research ideas, created connections with fantastic scholars/artists, and reinforced the importance of the work I am pursuing and creating. From many attendees, I heard that the conference changed their career trajectory and passion. I will have to say, I look forward to attending next year!
Kelsey Binion attended IUPUI from August 2017 – May 2023 and completed her Master’s in Applied Communication (2019) and doctorate in Health Communication (2023) from the School of Liberal Arts, Department of Communication Studies.