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Institutions & Degrees | About Our Scholarship | Interactive Theatre Group

Institutions & Degrees

Baby Steps

At this year’s conference in Orlando, I laid out a vision for ATHE that included serving the field by moving more decisively into the realm of data collection and analysis. If we are to fulfill our mission of supporting and advancing the study and practice of theatre and performance in higher education, we need to gain a greater understanding of the full shape and texture of our profession. How can we set goals, plan actions, and even know if we’re advancing our mission if we don’t know where we are as a field? If we don’t know the full measure of the challenges we’re facing?

Toward that end, the Governing Council has dedicated resources toward increasing ATHE’s capacity for data collection and analysis. It is the first, very preliminary results of that effort that I want to share with you in this article.

When I was elected President of ATHE, it struck me that I couldn’t even answer the most basic questions about the scope of theatre in higher education. How many degree-granting theatre programs are there? How many theatre degrees are granted in a year? How many faculty members are employed in theatre in higher education? Through analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we’re beginning to sketch the rough outlines. We’ve learned, for example, that in 2011-2012 (the last year for which full graduation data is available), 14,874 theatre degrees were granted by a total of 910 U.S. institutions. (Eventually, of course, we hope to track similar statistics for schools outside the US. Baby steps.)

IPEDS uses a variety of 6-digit "Classification of Instructional Programs” (CIP) Codes to identify theatre degrees. A breakdown of these codes with degrees awarded for 2011-2012 looks like this:

While there is a certain amount of specialization involved, it is clear that the majority of programs are classified as "generalist” programs. It may be easier to see this way:

The IPEDS data can also be broken out demographically. For example, here is the gender breakdown in degrees awarded:

The gender imbalance (61% female) seems striking, though it is not as large as one might think; during the same period women earned 58.1% of all post-secondary degrees, so while theatre and performance studies tilts slightly further in this direction, we are not that far off the national average.

This is the simplest, most basic kind of analysis. As we continue to mine existing data like this, we are also looking to supplement the government’s information with data we collect ourselves. For example, as a test project, I asked graduate assistant Zach Sudbury, a PhD student in theatre, to research the 910 schools that granted theatre degrees in 2011-2012 to determine which of these schools has a stand alone theatre or drama department, which has some form of "theatre and” program (e.g. theatre and dance, theatre and film, speech and theatre), and so on. Here’s what we discovered:

These, of course, are baby steps. The numbers we’ve been able to assemble are just that: numbers. We need to assemble a lot more of them and compare them over time before we can say with any authority what they mean. We expect to spend the next year (at least) building an infrastructure for how to collect and organize this kind of data. Meanwhile, we’ll be sharing these baby steps with you through ATHENews in the hopes that they might be of interest. Perhaps they might even get you thinking about the field in a way that you haven’t before.

And if not, then think about this: What data, if we could get it, would help us better accomplish our mission to support and advance the study and practice of theatre and performance in higher education? If you have some ideas about this, or suggestions on how we can best optimize our efforts at data collection and analysis, please feel free to share them with me at

-- Henry Bial, ATHE President

About Our Scholarship

In 1990, Ernest Boyer's Scholarship Reconsidered suggested a model for expanding the definition of scholarship in the academy. Loosely, this model characterizes scholarship in four categories:

  • Scholarship of Discovery: The scholarship of discovery is what would traditionally be called research.
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: This scholarly approach fosters the development of educational environments that embrace diverse learning styles, and increasingly, places the focus of education on the learner.
  • Scholarship of Engagement: The scholarship of engagement is the application of scholarship to "real world" issues, but also includes professional service and civic activism.
  • Scholarship of Integration: involves scholars, working alone or in collaboration, using theories, models, perspectives, and/or methods from one field to address research questions in another field.
Following the 1990 publication, the discussion of expanding concepts of scholarship in the academy, and the revision of faculty recognition and reward systems, have now filtered down to an institution-by-institution, and discipline-by-discipline dialogue. (Indeed, as recently as 2007, Western Carolina University adopted Boyer’s definitions for scholarship to replace traditional measures of research. (Read more in Inside Higher Ed:
A group of ATHE leaders crafted a white paper reviewing this reconsideration and applying its principles to scholarship in the discipline of theatre. In their summary, they state, "While ATHE recognizes the mission of each institution of higher learning is unique, ATHE strongly affirms recognition of a wider variety of the activities of our members as valuable scholarship. Indeed the perspectives presented in this document suggest that all aspects of our work may offer potential for scholarship, thus encouraging us to conduct them in a spirit of inquiry and with scholarly rigor."

Interactive Theatre Group

Editor's Note: ATHE and PTO co-sponsored this research done by Professor Anne Fliotsos from Purdue University

by Anne Fliotsos

Last year I became the new director of enCORE Interactive Theatre at Purdue University and began to review the literature about interactive theatre for social change in U.S. colleges and universities. Although articles and book chapters address this subject, there is scant information about the programs themselves, nor do professional organization keeps these statistics.

With the aid of Katherine Burke, President of Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc. (PTO) and the sponsorship of ATHE we created a survey of four-year colleges & universities in the U.S., collecting data about their programs. This was a first step in discovering the basics of who we are and what do we do.

We obtained forty-three responses and were happy to find a variety of schools in terms of size and institutional type.

We wondered if schools that have interactive theatre troupes operate within or outside of the curriculum and found they were almost evenly divided: 53% extra-curricular and 47% curricular. The longevity of the curricular and extra-curricular troupes varied greatly, from one year to twenty-three years, with an average of eight years.

We asked further questions of those with courses and degrees in interactive theatre and theatre for social change: 35% have only one course, 37% have more than one course; furthermore 5% offer a major, 13% a minor, and 10% a concentration. Sample course titles included Theatre for Social Change (most frequent), Theatre and Justice, Playback Theatre, Drama Therapy, Applied Theatre, and Activism and Performance, among others.

We asked if scenes were scripted or not, with the following result:

Furthermore, we wanted to know the major influences on the troupes' methods. Not surprisingly, the greatest influence was Augusto Boal (82%), followed by Viola Spolin (43%), Playback Theatre (39%), and Michael Rohd (32%). Other influences were Agitprop Theatre, El Teatro Campesino, Bread & Puppet Theatre, Barbara Ann Teer, Paulo Freire, and Keith Johnstone, among others.

It is difficult to summarize characteristics of each program, as they vary greatly. Anywhere from one to forty students are active in creating and presenting workshops each year, with an average of eight students participating. Campus audiences for the troupes included student groups (residence halls, Greek houses, freshman class, international groups, study abroad, various student organizations) as well as faculty and staff groups. Off campus audiences include a wide range of community groups as well as specialized groups such as former prisoners, at-risk teens, City Hall, and even S.W.A.T. One respondent mentioned that the groups do not invite them to perform, rather the group gives a community performance and anyone can attend. In an age of networking it was surprising to find that word of mouth was the primary method of advertising, followed by email, posters, newspapers, and online outlets.

Of special interest were the top three goals for troupes:

  1. To develop respect for diverse points of view
  2. To identify/address issues of cultural diversity
  3. To identify/address oppression

We also found the topics that are most frequently presented:

  1. Discrimination based on gender or sexual identity
  2. Racial discrimination
  3. Bullying and/or micro-aggression
  4. Sexual Harassment or sexual violence
  5. Respecting diverse viewpoints.

Because assessment is critical in most academic environments, we asked who assessed the effectiveness of their troupes and how. More than half use a survey or questionnaire, but more than one-third do not formally assess effectiveness. This may be partially explained by the high level of extra-curricular troupes (53%), where assessment is less likely to be required. We also asked what changes the troupes had made based on the feedback they had gotten. Some of the answers included:

  • Find a more diverse group of actors
  • Share the “blame” and don't put it all on white/majority students
  • Strive for more and better assessment
  • Create clearer articulation of outcome measures
  • Increase length of scenes with a chance to enact a solution
  • Create new topics and tighter focus on content
  • Give more opportunities for spectator participation
  • Provide more information on the form of theatre
  • Time for discussion & allow anonymous questions on sensitive issues
  • Provide more access & training for community members
  • Facilitate class schedules to make student actors more available
  • Put additional forms of theatre for social change in the curriculum
  • Establish a center for community engagement

We also asked about each program's greatest success and biggest challenges, with an interesting mix of comments. Common themes for success were the positive impact on student performers, and audiences, as well as the pedagogical value. Specific comments included:

  • The students have gained confidence in theatre and expression
  • Raising awareness of the issues and promoting discussion
  • Including non-theatre majors and under-represented students
  • Transformation of conflict situations
  • Empowering student performers, writers, spectators
  • One-on-one time with the students
  • New courses in the curriculum based in these techniques

Common themes regarding challenges were scheduling, budget, support from the institution, finding an audience. Specific comments included:

  • Lack of support from administration and non-theatre faculty
  • Creating fresh work each time
  • Apathy; generating interest in social issue plays
  • Finding methods of assessment
  • Freedom of speech [on taboo subjects] in high schools
  • Balancing our performance schedule with other department performances and projects
  • Traveling off-campus with performers
  • Financial support and budget constraints
  • No room in the curriculum to add a class in this topic

This survey provides only a snapshot of campus interactive theatre/theatre for social change programs, but this snapshot reveals the variety of program types, methods, goals, successes and challenges of individual troupes. It also raises common questions for many programs: How can we break down barriers (institutional or otherwise) in order to have more successful programs? To that end, how can we best assess the effectiveness of our troupes in order to ensure their continued existence? I recently presented these statistics at the IX World Congress of the International University Theatre Association (IUTA) and asked the attendees to share their observations of such programs in their own countries. Surprisingly, a theatre professor from Germany told me she knew of no such programs there. I was just as surprised to find a professor from Croatia tell me that the topics for U.S. presentations were parallel to their own, with gender and sexual identity being the most popular subject. Clearly, there is room for much more inquiry into this fascinating field.

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