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NYU Forum on Educational Theatre: April 21-24, 2016

For our 2016 annual forum, the Program in Educational Theatre built on the work of previous annual events in curriculum, assessment, teaching artistry, playwriting, ethnodrama, Shakespeare, citizenship, and site specific theatre by inviting the global community to propose workshops, papers, posters, narratives, and performances around one of the following topics:

  • Drama in Education (i.e., studies in drama/theatre curriculum, special education, integrated arts, assessment and evaluation)
  • Applied Theatre (i.e., studies in community-based theatre, theatre of the oppressed, the teaching artist, diversity and inclusion)
  • Theatre for Young Audiences and Play Production (i.e., studies in acting, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting, dramatic literature, theatre technology, arts-based research methodologies)

The 2016 forum celebrated fifty years of leadership and artist praxis at one of the world’s premier academies of excellence. The NYU Program in Educational Theatre, founded in 1966 by the late innovators Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, has graduated over five thousand students who have assumed authoritative positions in cultural institutions, colleges and schools, community centers, and other agencies worldwide. Recognized as one of the foremost centers for preparing the next generation of drama educators, theatre practitioners, scholars, and artists, NYU remains a beacon for spearheading new developments in the field.

Additionally, we awarded the first ever Swortzell Innovator Awards for leadership in the field of Educational Theatre in each of the three strands listed above. We accepted nominations for the awards in fall 2015.

Swortzell Innovator Awardees

Drama in Education: Lynda Zimmerman

As an MA/PhD student in the NYU Program in Educational Theatre in the 70s, Lynda Zimmerman spent time in England doing TIE/DIE with John Hodgson and came back with a lot of ideas for NYC. Lowell Swortzell suggested she work with Nancy to create a program that used theatre to teach various issues in NYC schools. With the Swortzells’ mentorship, and the help of three other Ed Theatre grad students, Lynda founded the Creative Arts Team (CAT) at the Swortzells’ kitchen table in 1974. At first, it was a touring production company bringing issue-based shows and workshops to schools throughout the city and beyond, winning awards and making a definite mark. Shortly thereafter, CAT morphed into what it still is today: a non-profit organization that uses interactive drama strategies to teach academic and social issues with pre-K through adult populations throughout the city. As CAT is the largest and oldest educational theatre non-profit organization in the US, with nearly 1,000 CAT-trained teaching artists spread throughout the world and over a million students and teachers who've benefited from CAT's classroom, community, and professional development work, Lynda has made a difference in this field. Today, CAT's archives are stored at Arizona State University, right alongside the Swortzell Collection.

Applied Theatre: Rebecca Brown Adelman and Trent Norman

Rebecca Brown Adelman and Trent Norman have utilized applied theater to spark important conversations around social justice. For over 15 years, Affinity Arts Consulting (formerly the Interactive Theater Project) has engaged audience through two short-form theater techniques: empty chair and Q&A. In their work, Rebecca or Trent craft a short script based on the issue being addressed. After the scene, the audience has an opportunity to ask the characters questions about their motivations and background in the scene. The audience may also get an opportunity to step in and change the scene in the case of an "empty chair scene." These two techniques allow the audience to engage with their peers and explore unanswered questions around specific issues. Working with residency at the University of Colorado since 1999, their funding was cut and they gathered their last on-campus ensemble in April 2015. Their kindness, openness, and commitment to their work is insurmountable and overwhelmingly needed in many, if not most, college campuses in the US. Their unique approach to Theatre of the Oppressed and Interactive Theatre is a powerful source of dialogue and engagement for all participants involved. Affinity Arts Consulting has raised awareness for sexual assault for universities in Colorado, Wyoming and New Hampshire, and tackled issues around race, class, gender, ability, environmental issues, and sexual orientation. Through Affinity Arts Consulting, audiences are no longer mindlessly learning about social justice, they are engaging in important dialogue in their own communities. For the website:

Theatre for Young Audiences: Jay DiPrima

For two decades, Jay DiPrima has successfully nurtured the Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award for the New England Theatre Conference (NETC). As a former teaching fellow in the Program in Educational Theatre and as a playwriting student of both Aurand Harris and Lowell Swortzell, Jay was inspired to initiate the Harris Playwriting Award to memorialize one of his mentors. As the executor of Aurand’s estate, Lowell and Nancy readily agreed to inaugurate this Award at the NETC conference in 1997 and as finalist readers for the first several years of this NETC Harris Award, they helped to insure its authenticity of quality playwriting for young audiences. This award recognizes the work of Jay DiPrima in supporting playwrights and plays for young audiences for the past twenty years. As former Chair of the Children's Division and of NETC’s Harris Award, he has encouraged emerging and seasoned playwrights to submit new works. For the past twenty years with Jay at the helm, NETC has honored twenty-five playwrights, sixteen of which have secured publication. By honoring the Swortzell’s lifelong mutual friend (Harris), by fostering a venue for recognizing professional playwrights, and by opening the door for publishing and producing new works for young audiences, Jay has impacted the field immeasurably and extended the work and vision of the founders of NYU’s Program in Educational Theatre.

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~Your 2016 NYU Forum Committee 

Guiding Questions:

Drama in Education

  • How and why do we teach drama and theatre in schools and community settings?
  • How do the roles and responsibilities of the teaching artist differ from those of the classroom teacher (primary, secondary or higher education)?
  • What is the contemporary role of drama and theatre in arts education?
  • How do we prepare future theatre artists and educators in the 21st century?
  • What are innovative ways of devising original works and/or teaching theatre using various aesthetic forms, media, and/or technology?
  • To what extent can the study of global theatre forms impact students' learning?
  • To what extent should we distinguish theatre-making from drama as a learning medium?
  • How can integrated-arts curricula facilitate teaching, learning and presenting the craft of theatre?
  • How do we assess students' aesthetic understanding and awareness?
  • What research supports the potential of drama as a learning medium?
  • How do drama and theatre make connections across curricular content areas and beyond schools?
  • How do drama and theatre education contribute to lifelong learning?
  • What role do drama and theatre play in community agencies?

Applied Theatre

  • How can drama provide a forum to explore ideas?
  • What are innovative strategies for using drama to stimulate dialogue, interaction and change?
  • How is theatre being used to rehabilitate people in prisons, health facilities, and elsewhere?
  • How do we prepare future artists/educators for work in applied theatre?
  • What ethical questions should the artist/educator consider in their work?
  • In what ways are aesthetics important in applied theatre? How do we negotiate a commitment to both the process and product of applied theatre work?
  • How do artist/educators assess participants' understandings in an applied theatre project?
  • What are the major tensions in the field and how are these being addressed?
  • To what extent has recent research on affect influenced community-based praxis?

Theatre for Young Audiences/Play Production

  • Theater for young audiences is an international movement and the borders are breaking down so how do we present and respond to work from other countries?
  • Who exactly are our new audiences-- who are we talking to?
  • Are we as brave as we think we are? How does what we think we should do relate to what we want to do as artists?
  • Is the writer at the heart of future theatre creation? What has happened to dramaturgy in the brave new world of immersive, experiential, visual/physical theatre?
  • Theatre for Young Audiences has always been in the forefront of theatrical innovation. So what is next?
  • What have we learned about nurturing the artist of the future-- playwriting, theater-making, performance?
  • How do artists establish rigorous, intentional new works development processes that are innovative and sustainable?
  • How does accountability serve the stakeholders in a new works development process?
  • How do we define and measure success in theatre for young audiences?