"You Never Undo that Promise to Yourself": Identities and agency in an anti-bias, interactive theatrical troupe

Open Access
Gilman, Sharlene Elinor
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 18, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Dissertation Advisor
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Chair
  • Gail Louise Boldt, Committee Member
  • Jamie Myers, Committee Member
  • Yvonne Madelaine Gaudelius, Committee Member
  • African American teachers
  • Boal
  • activist theatre
  • performing arts
  • tolerance
  • adolescent identity
  • anti-bullying activism
  • bullying
  • secondary performing arts
  • adolescent leadership
ABSTRACT Identity, self, or voice are not fixed once-and-for-all, not static achievements, but are always in play, in process of becoming, in being achieved, broken, slipping apart, and being reconstructed as several and multiple – sometimes coherent and sometimes in contradiction. Butler (2005) drawing from Foucault's techniques of the self and Levinas' encounter, argues that as we try to make ourselves intelligible or recognizable to one another, we come to interrogate our and another's norms and conduct, and cultivate responsibility for one another. In interrogating assumptions of belief and action and their disruptions of habitual thinking, Dewey (1922/1952) suggested that, to make decisions more conscious, we engage in "dramatic rehearsal," finding choices in imagining and finding alternatives. This study of a high school, anti-bias and anti-bullying theatrical improvisation troupe, the Tolerance Troupe from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania is both reflective and empirical. It intended to examine arts-based activism in play and in practice, set against social aggression in the school climate. It first establishes the need for anti-bias work in the schools, and then examines the ethical pedagogical work of an exceptional African-American teacher, the founder and mentor of the Tolerance Troupe to address it. Second, it looks at the students' Troupe experience as it shapes student-actors and Troupe alumni's stances and self-making through a community of practice, shaping identities, choices, and discourses. Last, it seeks to reveal ways this theatrical experience teaches and how and what its student-actors learn. I suggest that student awareness deepens from improvisation and practice at identification with multiple roles, as the actors create opportunities to see the constructedness of bias, of identities, and of rationalizations associated with these narratives and behaviors, turning theatrical play into an avenue of agency and hope.