5 Ways Educators Can Use Theater To Support #KindnessinAction

Theater is not just for the drama classroom. Applied theater in any space in school can help students develop empathy, practice listening, rehearse and imagine radical possibilities, and collaborate in kindness. Below are some theater activities that can help educators support #KindnessinAction. Some of these activities are great for occasional use, whereas others’ strength really builds with practice. For the latter, rituals can help students feel safe within a structure. 


Stage Presence 

Much of “Stage Presence 101” can help students understand the importance of affirming people’s identities. Enunciation and correctly pronouncing someone’s name is a way of validating someone’s whole self. Projection and speaking up is an opportunity for people to practice saying their names and pronouns loud and proud, and it can also be practice for students who wish to speak up as allies and upstanders!


Tableau  (Frozen Image)

Tableau, or frozen images, are an opportunity for students to work collaboratively to create a shape that illuminates a concept. For example, students can create a silent, frozen image that brings the concept of “Community,” “Inclusion,” “Heteronormativity,” “Upstander,” “School,” “#KindnessinAction,” or any other idea to life. Students can view one another’s tableaux in a “gallery walk” and observe levels, emotions, and the use of space to reflect on the meaning behind the image. 
Note: Be sure to have discussions with students about touching and consent ahead of time! 


Writing Monologues 

Students can write a monologue from the perspective of someone impacted by name-calling or kindness in action. As they write from the “I” perspective and imagine someone’s experience, students practice empathy. For students who need more structure here are a few prompts:

  • Start your monologue by writing “What I need you to know is…”
  • Have students start and end their monologue with the same word or phrase (Maybe “I need some Kindness in Action”) 

Note: While students can learn a lot from carrying another's story, it is important to facilitate reflection the ways students’ experiences connect and diverge. The “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors” framework from Emily Styles and Rudine Sims Bishop can be helpful in this work.


Invasion of the Brain

Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of community-based education that uses theater for social change developed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Augusto Boal of Brazil, offers many games for actors and non-actors to reflection through physicality and rehearse for revolutionary change. Invasion of the Brain is a game that can be facilitated as an icebreaker or as a longer activity. Debriefing how people feel during the activity and what they noticed can lead to very astute insights about power, complacency, and unlearning social norms. 

  • Participants move around a space. The move on the instruction “go” and stop at the instruction “stop”.
  • Two more instructions of “jump” and “clap” are added. 
  • After comfort with this process and  the instructions are reversed so that go = stop / stop = go / clap = jump / jump = clap.  The more confident the participants get the more actions you can add in to the equation.
  • An accessibility adjustment is to play this game verbally: People can repeat different colors or shapes to a rhythm/phrase and then reverse the repetition (ex: red/blue). 


Role Play / Forum Theater

Forum Theater is an opportunity for students to participate in a part of LGBTQ+ history and to rehearse for the future. An essential part of Theatre of the Oppressed is Forum Theater, which problem-solving technique in which an unresolved scene of oppression is presented. It is then replayed with the audience invited to stop the action, replace the character they feel is targeted by oppression, struggling, or lacking power, and improvise alternative solutions. This structure can be used to explore past and current dynamics and incidents, or as a “rehearsal for the future.” Historically, performance has been a key part of LGBTQ+ activism, with organizations like ACT UP staging small and large acts of theater to disrupt space and call attention to the AIDS epidemic. This form can be both discussed and practiced.

This No Name-Calling Week, support students to turn a pledge into practice and into action. In connecting with others, reflecting on their own identities, and rehearsing for justice, they can practice being change agents. These activities are also eligible to be submitted to the Creative Expression Exhibit, so please consider recording and submitting!

Jamila Humphrie (she/her) is a PhD candidate at NYU in the Educational Leadership program. Her work includes facilitating conversations for queer people of color, co-creating How We GLOW, a piece of interview theatre that explores LGBTQ+ identity, and presenting on her research at conferences and in schools across the country. Jamila is a member of the Advisory Board for the Making Gay History podcast and a member of GLSEN’s Educator Advisory Board. In 2016, she interned in the Social Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama. She also received a Fulbright Award to Brazil in 2012.

Emily Schorr Lesnick (she/her) is the Social Emotional Learning Coordinator at University Prep in Seattle, WA, and is a member of GLSEN’s Educator Advisory Board. A theater teacher and facilitator, Emily co-created How We GLOW, a piece of interview theater that explores lgbtq+ youth identity. Emily is also on the board of Rebel Playhouse, an educational theater company in NYC. She received her Master’s Degree from NYU’s Educational Theater program in 2016.