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Affecting Change Through Theater

by Sarah Levy

“Theater in the Community” uses techniques that have a positive effect.

USC student Shayna Cureton wore a large white sign around her neck that read “Child With Lead Poisoning” during a performance for USC students, faculty, staff and members of the surrounding community. Cureton and other members of Brent Blair’s class, “Theater in the Community,” wore signs such as “university student,” “housing tenant” and “landlord.” The audience laughed, applauded, sang along and took on acting roles themselves. The goal of the presentation was to raise awareness about housing conditions in USC’s nearby neighborhoods.
“The mission of the class is to go out into the community and make theater for change,” Cureton said. “We use techniques from the ‘Theater of the Oppressed,’ a specific type of theater, to change lives and have a positive effect on the community.”
According to Cureton, Theater of the Oppressed was invented by Brazilian director Augusto Boal in the 1970s to achieve liberation and help people learn how to fight oppression. Performances are designed to analyze why problems may exist, encourage dialogue and invite the audience to get involved in creatively reaching solutions. During the USC presentation, audience members took over the roles of the protagonists and reenacted
several scenes to achieve different, and perhaps better, resolutions than had previously been suggested.
“During discussion groups afterwards, my group came up with some really good ideas to solve the housing problems,” actor Shan Shi said. “One of them was that USC should publish suggested guidelines that landlords could follow, like a ‘Good Neighbor Contract.’ Any landlord that followed the guidelines would be
put on a USC-recommended list, which would encourage USC
students to rent from them.”
Shi plans on participating in the Peace Corps after she graduates this spring. The techniques she has learned in Blair’s class will help her work with other communities to fight oppression and
educate people.
“For me, it’s about the process,” Shi said. “I’ve learned so much from being in this class, and I know I can help people when
I [join] the Peace Corps. These are techniques that you can use around the world in nearly every community to advocate for change. And people seem to really enjoy it.

Do you know of someone who takes learning beyond classroom walls? If so, e-mail the Academic Culture Initiative (ACI) at to suggest a feature for this
column. ACI is sponsored by the provost and directed by Mark Kann, professor of political science. It aims to promote a thriving intellectual environment and an engaged student culture at USC. Sophomore Sarah Levy is a print journalism and political science major.

Affecting Change Through Theater

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