COMMents Blog

Posted on October 27th, 2021 by Prabakaran Jayaraman

IUPUI and the Department of Communication Studies now offers an incredibly unique major called Applied Theatre, where students learn that theatre is not just for Broadway.  It’s for everyone!  In fact, theatre is often at its best when directly applied to education, social justice, public health, and even drama therapy. Practiced in classrooms, clinics, or communities, theatre brings deep-rooted issues to the surface and provokes difficult conversations we all need to have as a society in order to go forward in a healthy way.  As affiliate faculty for both Medical Humanities & Health Studies and Applied Theatre, I could write a lot about my enthusiasm for my own work as a playwright and bioethicist, and how IUPUI being right in the midst of so many incredible options for creative and academic collaborations brought me into the applied theatre subspecialty of Theatre in Health Education.  For brevity, I’ll emphasize my favorite benefit of theatre, which is that it brings us all together.

Recently Emily Beckman, Director of the Medical Humanities and Health Studies program, suggested a theatrical collaboration between IUPUI and IU School of Medicine’s faculty, staff, and students to be pre-recorded and shared as part of a larger presentation at the American Society for Bioethics + Humanities (ASBH) 2021 Annual Conference.  Dr. Beckman chose Kurt Vonnegut’s teleplay Fortitude, a sci-fi story that provokes several bioethical questions, the most obvious being ‘How far is too far?’ when the audience is first introduced to the character of Sylvia.  (No spoilers beyond that.)  Indiana’s native son Kurt Vonnegut masterfully used science fiction to warn humanity about its shortcomings.  He had a unique perspective on human capacities for destruction and resiliency after having survived World War II as a POW.  His prescience for examining today’s complicated choices in healthcare in Fortitude was influenced by another of Dr. Beckman’s favorite novels; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.  Vonnegut looked to the future and past with an affection for the present, and that is what makes him an excellent guide for those of us determined to have important conversations today in the hopes of accomplishing actual change for the better.

The fun part of this collaboration came when reading and recording with our assembled troupe from around IUPUI and IUSM.  Not all our members had expertise rooted in theatre. Several came from the medical arena – again, proving that theatre is for everyone. Applied Theatre encourages inclusivity with an understanding that this is how we get smarter, by making room for everyone and then working together. Theatre also provides individuals access to parts of themselves which don’t always get the chance to be self-examined or publicly seen.  I always enjoy the early table reads, and this collaboration was no exception, when amateur actors start to get their wheels of trust and courage turning as they absorb and recycle the creative energies shared with them by the professionals in the room.  This happens in classrooms, as well, so I urge IUPUI students to take a chance on an applied theatre course, even if you’re a non-major. Give yourself this experience. Theatre finds our quiet voices and gives them a chance to come out and be heard.  It brings those voices together and creates a magic of connectivity that invites the audience to feel like they are also participants in the story, just observing in a safe space where they can think and feel things about the complex challenges of being human.

I am delighted to have been among the performers and digital media specialists brought together for this event, and I hope that our efforts are well received by the ASBH audience on October 13th at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum (and virtually) in downtown Indianapolis.  Other members of the excellent cast and crew were Emilio Robles, Director of Applied Theatre, Joshua Hoffer, IU medical student, Matt Hodges, IU medical student, Michelle Moore, IUPUI student & theatre professional, Dr. Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, IUPUI & IUSM faculty, Assistant Dean (and secret actor), and Tah Yogo, Program Manager for the Center for Bioethics.  Our talented digital media crew was led by Jon Greenhoe, Digital Media Production Supervisor.

By: Angeline Larimer, Adjunct Faculty in Theatre

If you’re interested in finding out more about our Applied Theatre Program at IUPUI, please contact Mr. Emilio Robles.