"for People Who Aren't Sure Who They Are, Theatre is a Great Place to Be": Narratives of Actors and their Sexual Identities

Open Access
Mccadden, Theodore Edward
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 11, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Robin Redmon Wright, Dissertation Advisor
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Member
  • Holly L Angelique, Committee Member
  • Adam Ross Gustafson, Committee Member
  • adult education
  • theatre
  • acting
  • embodied learning
  • performance of gender
  • adult development
  • LGBT development
  • queer theory
This narrative study seeks to understand the relationship between the practice of acting and sexual identity in non-heterosexual male actors. The study applies two lenses of analysis, a narrative analysis following Clandinin and Connelly (2000), and a constant-comparative analysis, and presents the data in those two distinct lenses. This study examines the narratives of nine male actors in early adulthood through middle age, and of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Framed in D'Augelli's (1994) lifespan developmental model of sexual identity, the data in this study illustrate several relevant themes that emerge in the narrative analysis. First, participants reported that theatre can be a safe space for sexual identity exploration in its openness and the propensity for actors to be more emotionally astute. Participants described theatre as a site for understanding relationships within several contexts: mentoring, family, romance, and a community of support. For many participants, theatre was a site of embodied learning, through the use of the voice and movement, as well as the performance of gender. Finally, participants framed acting as a politic, and described ways in which they've come to understand power and positionality through their art, and how they have reacted to that understanding through both mainstream and activist theatre. The analysis and discussion of the data bridges the gap in empirical literature between adult development and the experience of acting by framing acting within several relevant adult education concepts: acting as a community of practice, acting as an embodied experience, acting as a site of sociopolitical action, and acting as a safe space for identity exploration and development. Each theme is presented in parallel with D'Augelli's model to illustrate the connection between the adult education themes and the processes within the model. The data confirm the theoretical model and support its relevance in a contemporary zeitgeist, while challenging some shortcomings in the model: the linear, unidirectional concept of sexual identity, and the absence of a practical illustration of the role of cultural intersectionality on sexual identity development.