Engaging Reality in Theatre: Young Performers, Empathy, and Injustice


By Ronit Mandelkern

I texted my best friend, Claire, “I honestly think theatre is too close for me to talk about.” I suppose a background story is needed. Theatre was my sanctuary from when I was six until the end of high school. I felt safe on stage. Nothing could hurt me. Outside, however, I dealt with the pain of losing my mother, of dealing with moving to a new school, of having a step-mother, of change. Everything hurt—but I was the performer—I was in my own reality. As I became each character or improvised in theatre class, I could scream or cry or even yell and no one knew that it was coming from a place of desperate pain. I was six when my mom died of Breast Cancer. Too young to process death, too expressive to internalize it, I needed something like a sanctuary. And there it is. The stage became my sacred space: a place both engaged and disengaged from reality, separate but linked to my identity. It was a universe in which reality paused, and life was lived as I performed it. Reality was oftentimes too confusing to understand and too difficult to live in. I needed theatre, and to be honest, I still need it today.

In my senior year of high school we put on The Shakespeare Project. It was an aggregation of Shakespeare’s most well-received works. The performance began with one of William Shakespeare’s most famous lines from the play As You Like It.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His act being seven stages.” (Shakespeare, 2.7.139-143).

It is important to understand that Shakespeare is comparing life to a play to convey the transience of human life. This is a somber message that humans enter and exit the stage, embodying the cycle of life. When I performed this, I understood that performers enact more than the brevity of human life, but I didn’t understand how they perceived performance.

The difference, however, is that theatre doesn’t die. People’s lives are brief, but roles are lived and relived, characters change and transform with each exit and entrance. It is important to conceptualize theatre as a cultural and social practice as it incorporates concepts of agency, collectivity, and context—it is a social practical context in which theatre, an artistic, creative practice is done (Maria Shevtsova & Dan Urian, 2002). Theatre is of course art, not life, but life is perhaps embedded within art. I lived through my art and felt more through performing. Was art an outlet to perceive the world through a rose-colored glasses? While performing is both an individual and collective experience, I was curious what space the stage transformed into for other performers. My curiosity led to my research. Who, besides myself, experiences reality through art? My research encompasses theatre as a reflection of reality and the extent that performers develop empathy through their characters, focusing on whether this transformation translates to understanding and acting on the social injustices in theatre.

Five Performers

I conducted interviews with five participants, all from the United States. I found the five respondents through my own experience, mutual friends, and Facebook groups. I knew only one of the participants personally. All of my interviews were conducted via Skype, Facebook video or call. Being vis-à-vis with someone through a computer screen does take away from the interview experience. Regardless, the interviews were extremely casual as I intended to create an open dialogue for my research, and all of the participants created an intimate experience in which they opened the curtains to their world as a stage.

As I interviewed each of the respondents I understood my position: I am the medium through which their narratives are written. My intention is to provide them a chance to be masters of their own narratives, at once a writer and a performer. Reflected in this article are these performers’ voices, unbound from the pre-written scripts or narratives, they are the protagonists of their own story. I hope to maintain their authentic voice throughout as I engage and embark on critical reflections of the authenticity of theatre.

I contacted Claire who lives in the ‘Arts House’ at a small Liberal Arts college and put me in touch with my first two respondents, Kylie and Steven. Both are twenty-one, double majors in creative writing and theatre, and going into their final year of college together.

Kylie, a bubbly, self-described “awkward ball of energy” was my first interviewee. She is smart, funny, and above-all extremely enthusiastic about theatre. Kylie grew up outside of Manhattan and attended a preppy, affluent high school in the city. There, her depression sky rocketed, grades and self-confidence decreased. “I was in this really weird place of not knowing who I was and who my friends were.” Still investing time in both theatre and varsity sports, Kylie remained unconfident in herself until she quit everything and focused on theatre. It became her escape. Theatre made “me feel so much better than sports ever did.” Kylie apprehensively told me that she recently came out as bisexual. Her identity is thus ingrained in her experience as a performer and position as an unrepresented narrative in theatre. However, this does not dissuade her from pursuing a career in the performing arts.

Steven, on the other hand, would love to pursue theatre as a career but intends on teaching because it is ‘practical’ and will always find time for acting. He was sitting on the ground outside of the Arts House after class ended. I asked him whether his parents’ would support him if he pursued theatre as a career “yeah, if I get a job.” He described his upbringing as spoiled–his parents took him and his sister to Broadway shows whenever they were in the city. I asked again about pursuing a career in the arts to clarify his position. “I would love to do it as a career. Maybe I’ll get a better work-ethic. As of right now I am a bit lazy. It’s a hard, hard world out there.” Steven emphasized his preference of plays over musicals, as musicals are concerned with the audience. But perhaps most art forms are disentangled with society.

Throughout our conversation Steven articulated the importance of character development and the stage as a creative release. “If I can’t communicate something I will most likely communicate it on stage.” As a white-cis male, Steven is cast in roles that are reflective of his experience and identity. “When I get a character that is similar to me I learn from that character because whatever happens is not real life, but…it’s just finding relatabilities to the character.” Most roles are predominantly written for white men, so I was not surprised that Steven could easily relate to his characters.

Their feelings can be understood through Scheiffele’s analysis of Acting as an altered state of consciousness. Performers express themselves in new ways without suffering the consequences of reality. Acting elicits a freedom of emotional expression on the stage “that can be very liberating and cathartic and many of us are drawn to this quality of the experience” (Scheiffele, 2001, p.184).

The idea of permanency resonates with a lot of people, especially me. As we entered into higher academic fields, there is a lot of pressure to pursue a career that guarantees security. Theatre, to all the respondents, is a risk. As anxious and unsettled students, youth thrive on promises of forever, it is embedded in our social contract. I argue that the risks of dedicating a career to the performing arts are inherently deviant. In fact, it seemingly goes against the opportunities promised in the social contract such as viable employment, marriage, and family formation (Muldering, 2013). Nevertheless, when speaking with the participants each acknowledged the inherent risk of the theatre industry and demonstrated their fear by enrolling in multiple faculties and non-performing arts institutions.

Kayla, my third interviewee, combats the pervasive fear of job insecurity through several avenues, each significantly important. As she ate her favorite sandwich in a café heavily populated by stressed students—a typical mental state for students at our university—I asked her if she was stressed. She casually responded “no, I’m good” and took a bite. I asked her why she wanted to pursue a career in film. “I always loved movies. I’ve always wanted to do that. I love that you can be so much more subtle. And also I am romantic about it and love that it can last forever.”  Within her idealized image of film lies the subtleties that encompass habitual practices such as small facial movements that can replace five sentences. Moreover, repeatedly confronting daily anxieties and uncertainties through the protection of art is a means to grapple with life’s instability. While life performance ends with a curtain call, film can always be revisited. Everything remains the same, even when we do not. Film’s stability is reassuring when a career is foreboding.

Kayla’s emotional intelligence immediately drew my attention. Like my other respondents, Kayla is enrolled in multiple faculties. However, Kayla’s focus on international relations and double minor in history and theatre encompasses her determination to tackle social justice through theatre.

One of the things about actors is it forces you to connect to somebody and it forces the audience to connect to that person. One of the biggest things in conflict is a lack of empathy for the other side and dehumanizing them so that it is easier to fight them. Theatre or film doesn’t let you do that, especially if it’s well done

However, with theatre prices rising and the most engaged groups characterized as educated, and white, the audience of current theatre represents a homogenous group. The National Survey reported that more than 85 percent of the audience in theatre is white, and most are educated (Audience Finder, National Survey). Research recently published from Audience Agency claims that the average age of theatre-goers will increase over the next decade. The data includes that theatre came lowest on the cultural activities people would recommend to their friends. There will be no generation to replace the past audience if changes in theatre are not made. While this information is quite daunting for performers, it provides a space for critical thinking. Why does theatre not speak to youth?

Clara, my fourth interviewee, who is a graduate student of performance as a public practice program in the department of theatre and dance, recognizes the inherent problems of theatre: discrimination. Clara and I video chatted for nearly forty minutes. She is an advocate for transgender rights, incredibly articulate, and passionate. Clara is especially aware of how language can be discriminatory. Her thesis argues that gendered language is one resource that trans and genderqueer people have for performing their genders. Although theatre isn’t her main study, she recognizes theatre as unrepresentative of minority individuals. Plays are written by and for white people with plots that align with the experiences of a white middle class individual.

Toni, my fifth interviewee, who is a performer at my former college, reflects Clara’s criticism of theatre in her first-hand experience of theatre’s discriminatory narrative. As a black, female actor from a low socioeconomic area in the Bronx, Toni sometimes asks herself: “Is there even a point in auditioning?”  When directors hold auditions they do not explicitly say the desired ethnicity, but that nevertheless deters casting of colored performers. Her frustration with the system was sobering. Many of the student performers come from middle or upper class neighborhoods.“I didn’t realize people be taking voice lessons outside of high school while they were still in  high school” Unaware of extreme disadvantages until college, Toni had to navigate the system by attending a public performing arts school and a free ensemble that fostered her creativity and passion for the arts. Art does not reflect her experiences.

It is through these enlightening interviews that I looked beneath the text, pulled back the curtains and saw to my own astonishment how reality is in fact represented on stage, and the world that we live in disregards minority roles, alienating all non-white individuals who are not represented on stage. Who would want to see a show in which their own reflections are invisible, who would act in a play not written for them, and who could cast those actors? Many times, the answer is simply: no one.  If the stage continues to perform for a white, culturally homogenous, ageing class, then theatre will be unrepresentative of reality. Minorities need access to art in order to produce relevant work; casts should challenge social conceptions. Theatre need not be trapped in the past, theatre needs representation, it needs progress, it needs to serve those that society often times neglects. As Toni put it,

I’ve always felt like art is one of the best reflections of real life. I think art is political. I think art is social. I think art is reflective of how we understand each other and the world.”

But the stage cannot, and should not be stagnating. Illuminated in the reality that embodies theatre are opportunities to reflection on current issues and adjust the narrative accordingly. Privilege is rarely acknowledged within the context of theatre. It is problematic for several reasons, but most importantly the labels assigned to a particular identity influence how people perceive themselves and others, eliciting evident social and psychological effects (Zackariasson, 2014). Past discourses are reproduced through labels, inhibiting flexible identity exploration in theatre. Theatre no longer represents the reality of youth: we are diverse, engaged, and politically motivated. As performers have their exits and entrances, so must plays and so must progress. The show must go on as a force for change. Or like all other things, it will  have its final exit.

Theatre: A Reflection of Life?

Theatre, as an experiential field actualizes and promotes the constitution of practices, values, and understanding that pertain to the collective organizations of social practice (Öztürk, 2013). While performances are repeated, it is essential for both the audience and the performer to enter the theatre and perceive the acts as spontaneous. However, it is the performers that transform the stage into a world of their own. Steven describes this process.

“Whenever I am onstage, I am concentrating on getting in the state that I am in. I won’t even look at the audience. I won’t acknowledge that the audience is there. It’s kind of convincing myself that this is who I am for two and a half hours.”

All respondents described a similar process of developing their character. Interestingly, in order to portray realism, performers not only center their character, but they enter into a feeling of isolation on stage that is pivotal to character development (Öztürk, 2013). Many respondents communicated that understanding their characters is a process. It is essential to understand that performers are transforming into another person. Not only does this process take mental concentration, but it involves integrating the self and the character onto stage. Toni elaborates that  “there is a realism in theatre. In order to relay a certain realism in a play, you need to empathize with the role.”

Unsurprisingly, performers’ transformation is reflective of Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘structure of feeling’ in which the performers’ generational values and perceptions that encompass their lived experiences and quality of life are reflected in artistic expression, or in this case, acting (Williams, 1977). According to Williams, life is not understood until we locate the structures of feeling. Essentially, once literature of a generation is made visible to the public, it is experienced as a “full, central, and immediate experience” (Williams, 1977, p. 47). Essentially, with their body and language, actors articulate rituals reflective of the generation. Their performance is a reflection of life of unfixed social experiences.

Actors create meaning through performing  habitual rituals on stage. Engrained in theatre is the perception of raw emotions that deeply characterize the human experience. Art, according to Williams, is more real, more immediate than life itself. Perhaps that is what grounds theatre in reality. Actors reflect the affective processes that encompass daily life. It comes as no surprise when Kylie glorifies the relational connection that audience members experience.

Theatre can make people happy, it can cure things, maybe you’ll be the president…But I can make people laugh and I can also make people cry. I mean, that’s insane”

Dewsbury’s analysis of theatre explains this insanity quite simply. Performers’ thoughts and actions assemble human relations and human discourse, and through this exchange performers enact meaningful experiences (Dewsbury, 2000). As such, performers focus on creating a realistic world by developing common practices and skills that we are socialized to enact and recognize as life.“There is an emotional aspect to it which makes the performance more personal.” Both the actors and audience members connect with the inherently social performance as it reflects aspects of their own life. The imagined world, and this world’s imagined communities embody the stage; theatre transcends both the real and the fiction as it navigates through the limbo of an unfixed world to create meaning. While symbolically detached from the outside world, the stage remains a reflection of reality, at least the performer’s reality.

Developing Empathy

Within this disconnection, performers enact on stage connectedness. Primarily, performativity is about connection (Dewsbury, 2000). On stage, characters reflect typical social situations. In order to make the performance real, the audience needs to connect with the identity of the character. They engage in conversations, dilemmas, and environments that shape the character’s identity. Performers connect their identity to the character and to the character’s life. Empathy is thus essential.

I think the biggest thing [of character development] is developing empathy and make the audience connect. And it helps me learn about myself. Like what parts of me are similar to this character and what parts of me are different.”

Kayla explains the complexities of developing empathy–it cannot be done without using one’s own experiences. Just like any character, each individual has their own story. While the narratives of the world are different, it is seemingly the actor’s responsibility to accurately portray the role through empathy. Many describe the process of empathy development as ‘feeling the role.’ Steven explains:

Once lines are memorized, that’s when I start experimenting with different actions, and try different things and see what feels natural to my body, and what feels natural speaking intonation wise, it’s about playing off of other actors on stage too… I think that when I do a character, I usually am myself, but to a certain extent the part of the character that I have to develop is what I experience that is similar to the character, and understanding how I would go about getting what the character would what. So I guess finding the motivations in myself.

Steven’s quote exemplifies the paradoxical nature of performing authenticity. His interest in role development differentiated him from most participants. While others momentarily focused on the challenges and processes of transforming into a character, the majority of Steven’s interview encompassed character development. Although he only mentioned the therapeutic role of theatre once, it seems that his passion for becoming a character is correlated with understanding himself and releasing his own inner-tensions through character development. The struggle to accurately portray realism exemplifies the actors’ constant conflict. Simultaneously, performers engage in isolation, yet tap into their own experiences to create an authentic presentation of life in order to develop empathy for a fictional character. While Steven’s character is prewritten, he is the one to make adaptations to the character’s identity. Steven is in fact mastering his role by fusing fiction and reality.

While all interviewed performers empathize with their character in order to become the role, it is a very individualized process. Toni, seemingly unaware that this transformation process is typical for many performers, parallels Steven’s character development.

“I don’t know if a lot of people do this, but I spend time to sit down, meditate, and think about the character and think about what they’re going through. Then I think about if I was in the situation how would I feel, and even if it’s not how I would feel I think about how the character would feel…and how that would look and feel on my body…and sometimes I just repeat the situation in my head.”

Actors think deeply about the complexities of the human experience; including  their character’s motivations, beliefs, and values. Their goal is to make the literature come alive through enacting these internal states of being. By participating in theatre, actors step into roles that do not reflect their experiences. However, most times, these narratives are reflective of an actor’s experience. It is inevitably easier to portray empathy when an individual shares similar experiences with a character.  Empathy encapsulates the magic of theatre. We relate to the raw emotions that are the human experience. If we draw back the curtains, however, what is unveiled?

The Inherent Problem of Realism

If theatre is a reflection of reality, then embedded within the literature of plays are socio-economic prejudices. In regards to the structure of feeling, performance does not include minority characters as they are inherently not the dominant narrative of a generation. Clara highlights that the narrative arcs and the casted characters represent the hegemony presented in theatre. She analyzes in a theatre context, the narrative arcs that we choose and the people we tell stories about are those that we value and are interested in. However, Clara argues that most of the time theatre does not represent reality. “Because of the existing power structures, that is not likely to happen.” In short, white people write about white problems for a white audience. The questions we need to ask when watching a performance is: who isn’t cast? Who isn’t represented? Why are they not on stage?

Historically, theatre bars minorities and individuals of low socioeconomic status from entering.  The Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) recently published data on Broadway diversity. In 2016, the number of minority roles dipped from 22 percent, from the previous season’s 25 percent (AAPAC).

While all performers acknowledged that empathy is essential for character development, not all discussed the significance of minority figures in theatre. Toni elaborates as to why minorities are not represented in the arts. Most of the plays produced at her college don’t represent minority experiences. When the mainstage put on Romeo and Juliet and cast the Montagues and Capulets as different races, a Toni experienced a lot of backlash from other performers.

They’re trying to be more open. Casting is very aggravating at my school because the majority of plays they choose to are either written by white people or make up an all white cast, if it’s not a white cast then the directors cast it as white. It’s like why are you assuming that the characters are all white and it has to be this way…They (the directors) are gonna look at the role and be like, that should be a white person. Shakespeare isn’t necessarily saying it has to be all white. I remember all of the backlash it got. These students were like ‘This is discrimination. What happened to color blind casting? Ya’ll shouldn’t be able to say that the Capulets are black and Montagues are white.’ So why are you so damn mad that the school has to specify that these have to be black people to cast black people. Why can’t it just be automatic that people would cast black people and consider everyone. Why does it need to be made said to cast black people of color.”

Generally speaking, if white-middle class people cannot relate to a Broadway play, it will discontinue as they are the main audience and investors in the arts. However, even when there is progress, resistance is inevitable. When directors adapted Romeo and Juliet to include people of color, Toni was met with privileged comments from people in the theatre community. Theatre cannot and should not perpetuate stereotypes, yet performers who create structures of feeling must be a part of this change, not against.

Although Steven emphasizes the importance of empathy in character development, he seems unaware of the structural imbalances of theatre. “When directors cast shows at least in my college, they try and put people in the part that would fit best in that person’s personality, so they (the actors) wouldn’t have to character act and be outlandish.” I asked Kylie to expand on whether her college places an emphasis on diversity in theatre. From her view, she believes it’s important to have diverse shows, as long as they are not pandering. Interestingly, she excuses her school’s lack of diversity. “Since we don’t have that many minority students who do theatre, it becomes tricky, and somewhat ill placed.” While both Kylie and Steven  attend the same university and come from a similar privileged background, Kylie recognizes the inherent problem of theatre’s lack of diversity, but showed no signs of empathizing with minority students who do not have the opportunity to become involved in theatre. Recognizing that there is an issue is not enough to make a change. Challenging theatre’s current representational failure cannot be an ‘ethnic’ or ‘colored’ problem. It must be acknowledged by all participants of theatre and acted on. The stage must be representational of all of society as it is meant to be a reflection of life.

Education: A Stage for Stagnation

While many of the performers chose to attend universities because it provides a broad learning perspective that may enrich worldly knowledge, many theatre programs do not translate their culturally diverse message to the stage. Clara specifically references Jill Dolan’s perception that university theatre departments should be considered as laboratories for doing exciting risky and alternative works (Dolan, 2001). However, she acknowledges that theatre departments have so many conflicting interests: profit needs to be made from the performance and stakeholders such as actors, designers, and directors want a recognizable play that will benefit their career. As a result, theatre faculties choose plays that don’t disrupt normative ideas, but flow with the dominant culture that is invested and represented in the selected plays. Toni frustratingly explains the tensions within the theatre world.

“My school needs to introduce students to off-Broadway shows that are reflective of real life; where the stories are more local and realistic so that people can act in the mindset of normal people. A lot of the students (in my college) come from a bubbled community and entered into another bubbled community. The plays that are put on don’t force people to think outside of their own bubble.”

Main stage productions are rarely a place where contemporary issues are addressed. “This means that in general, people have to believe that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, that the playing field is level, and that differences in income and status reflect individual differences in performance” (Flanagan, 2008, p.132). Student performers must understand how meritocracy impacts their fellow actors. For instance, Kylie recognizes that her theatre department doesn’t stage many minority focused plays. Nevertheless, she doesn’t fault the institution because the theatre department doesn’t have many minority students involved “it becomes tricky and somewhat ill placed.”

While Kylie wishes her theatre department put on more minority plays, she can’t seem to blame her university. Unfortunately, this is a representation of America’s meritocratic system that is perpetuated within the theatre community. Toni passionately dispels the problematic nature of meritocracy.

“The idea of meritocracy is very damaging because it spreads the idea that even if you do come from a background where you’re on your face, you still have to put in the same amount of work as someone who comes from a background where they’re literally handed everything…it takes a lot more work to come from the bottom to the top, than the middle to the top”

At the expense of trivializing the experiences of minority students, university theatre departments fail to enlighten privileged performers and continue to perpetuate narratives that are unrepresentative of real life. Problematically, theatre is a construct of collective prejudices and societal conventions that inform personal beliefs and feelings.

Giving Power Back to the People

To combat theatre’s inaccurate perception of the world and lack of diversity, I asked Clara where change comes from. She told me of the various theatre ensembles that she participates in and how students are leaders in changing narratives. Productions such as the Cohen New Works Festival, a week-long showcase of 30 performances created and acted by students provide young performers with opportunities to express their own narratives. But how can students change the narratives of theatre?

This question was clearly explained by Toni who experienced how privilege, or the lack thereof, influences representation on stage. “Students of color aren’t being exposed to art, so naturally there would be less art in the world” If minority individuals do not have access to theatre, it prevents progress and leads to theatre as an unauthentic medium. Opportunities aren’t given to people from inner city schools. People from the theatre community should acknowledge the disparity between artists coming from different backgrounds and the importance of providing minorities with opportunities to people of different backgrounds. Toni is a huge proponent of an arts education because it gives opportunities to people like her to challenge the norm and develop a presence on stage.

The potential of such inclusive arts education is exemplified by Epic Theatre Ensemble, a politically and socially motivated artist-run theatre company based in Brooklyn that partners with the community to produce work that fights for social justice. Epic is taking the first steps to change the face of theatre by introducing young people of color from inner city schools to quality theatre education with no charge. Epic took Toni and many others to universities to practice standardized testing, audition monologues, participate in audition workshops and visit schools dominant in theatre. Progress takes time, but is demonstrated when a former college and Epic alumna was the first student in eleven years to win the National Shakespeare Competition. I agree with Toni, “organizations like Epic are changing the world.”

Expecting a More Colorful Performance?

Social change is slow. Since we know the structure of feeling rings true to white college performers, we now know it is essential that theatre represents the world we wish to live in: an inclusive stage. Theatre need not be passive experience, but one that actively engages the audience. Clara describes a performance that ended at the climax of the play. Instead of curtain call, the audience was asked to participate on stage and find a solution. By engaging with the audience and creating nuanced acts, the audience was forced to understand contemporary issues. “Theatre as a form still has a lot to do and a lot to say for social justice…but has a lot of room for social change.” Small projects, like the ones Clara participates in create a space for discourse, for new works, and for action.

Student performers are pivotal in changing the narrative of theatre. Exposing underprivileged students to theatre is the first step, the next goal is to increase their representation on stage both as performers and writers. Providing education and opportunities for young people to engage with theatre is crucial to enacting this change. Hopefully, as more people see a diverse cast, they will recognize it as a structure of feeling and accept the performance as a reflection of life. However, with the existing power structure, Clara believes that progress typically comes from off-Broadway production. In these shows, young performers are divisive in this change by playing characters that are representative of contemporary norms. Performers must perform the change they wish to see.

Key Takeaways

For me, theatre has always been a safe space for expression. However, I am also white. I never recognized my own privilege in the theatre community and I am grateful that I am now more aware of the challenges faced by minorities so that I can inform others and be part of this change. As an actor and a person, I am disappointed in my own disconnection from reality. While I recognized that we had little diversity on the stage, I didn’t perceive it as a point of critical analysis. Instead, I should be more alert of unrepresented characters.

Fortunately, people like Clara exist to inform and teach us that “we are always making moral choices and what we do can cause harm.” Particularly, the people who engage with theatre as a reality must recognize the role of theatre as an influencer–that they themselves are influencers as well. However, we do not need to be stuck in the current problem. Toni emphasizes the importance of staying overtly aware while being a participant of theatre.

Everything that enters the stage is a part of the world and you need to be conscious of people using and saying things on stage as well as being conscious of the audience. Doing that makes you more conscious of the world.”

When performing, it is important to remember that people are everywhere. Performers must be aware of the intersectionality of social theatre: the audience, the stage, and character. These three aspects of theatre are involved in creating a lived practice. Remembering that people are in fact everywhere demonstrates that not all stories are told, not all gender or ethnic identities are represented and not all art benefits society. Hopefully, remembering this places accountability on everyone involved in the production.

From my research, I conclude that performers, while they have agency in the development of their characters, are limited to the theatre department’s plays. It seems as if addressing unrepresented minorities must emerge from various roles in theatre. As a collective department, theatre students must be bold as they pave the way for more characters and diverse narratives. In conducting this research, I evaluate theatre not as a reflection of our current reality or of past hegemonic culture. Rather, theatre is in limbo between the two generations. It remains a lived art. But we must apply this knowledge to the plays. As we revitalize literature, it is in the best interest of our future generations to remember the voiceless characters.

From a generational perspective, making theatre more engaging is essential in keeping the art alive. As millennials we like to create rather than passively consume. Moreover, we are generally liberal and commit to activities involved in social justice. As youths, we step into several roles. Like performers, we accumulate a multitude of identities. Typically, youths explore a variety of possibilities (such as their identity, career, etc.). These explorations are illuminating factors in self-development (Arnett, 2004). If theatre intends to remain on stage, all those involved should demand a shift in a fixed corporeal narrative that encompasses most plays. We should demand representation of minorities. We should recognize that voices are not heard and that the audience no longer wants to remain silent.


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Cover image: https://teens.artsconnection.org/worlds-stage-monologue/