Most classes spend their first full week going over the syllabus and getting into the
background and basics of the subject at hand. This is not so for the course Theatre and Social Change, taught by Professor Stephanie Daniels in the Theatre department. In true theatrical fashion, this course started out with a bang, as the nineteen students in the class spent their first week in workshops with visiting artist Tim Miller.
This was Miller’s second visit to Wheaton, the first being several years ago. An internationally acclaimed performance artist, his creative work, both written and performed, explores his identity as a gay man at the intersection of the personal and the political. He has been heavily involved in activism for the LGBT community, including successfully suing the federal government with three other artists in 1990 for suppressing the free speech of gay performers. He now tours colleges across the country leading workshops and performing for students.
This ties in with the course as it explores how theatre can be used as a tool for raising the level of activism and consciousness. Throughout the semester, the course will cover a plethora of pieces on topics such as race, gender, sexuality economic status and more. In fact, one of the readings to be discussed is the play “What Happens When,” which was written by a Wheaton faculty member and performed here just last spring. The students in this course come from a variety of majors that span the spectrum from theatre to biology. Many are taking it as a part of the connection titled “Revolution!”
The workshops led by Miller consisted of three-hour sessions conducted every day during the first full week of classes. In these workshops, students explored different mediums of expression through movement, spoken word, drawing and writing. By the end of the week, each student had a two to three minute piece on the subject of a personal and/or political change that they would like to make happen. It all culminated in a performance that Saturday evening of all of the students’ work compiled into one performance.
The title of the performance, Body Maps, referred to drawings the students did in these workshops in which they mapped out different parts of their body that reflected stories and experiences from their lives, and these were shown to audience members by the students themselves.
Following the performance, participants had mixed emotions about their experiences in the workshop and in the performance itself. Some found it to be a freeing and enlightening experience – a sort of breakthrough in their ability to express themselves and their views. Others found that it was too much too soon. They felt uncomfortable with what had gone on in workshops and what they ultimately performed in the showcase. Regardless, students could agree that this experience formed a unique bond with their classmates, the likes of which you would not see in most classes. It is a rather unorthodox way of getting to know each other – starting with the really deep, dark stuff and working backwards from there – but effective nonetheless, and certainly an experience that is memorable and will shape the rest of the semester in this course.