This summer, the Goodman joined forces with the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference to further influence the rise in “Peace Room” initiatives in university classrooms. Peace Rooms focus on creating spaces where conflicts are solved in a holistic matter without resorting to punitive or violent measures. Members from ATHE visited the Goodman’s Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement to experience a new collaboration between Millsaps College professor Peter Friedrich and members of the Goodman Education and Engagement department. The interactive theater work, titled The Peace Room, was built by and featured members of the Goodman’s GeNarrations and PlayBuild|Youth Intensive programs. Based off of Peace Room restorative justice techniques founded in Chicago, this project sought to introduce an amalgamation of interactive theater and peace rooms to higher education teachers on a national level.
Since 1997, Chicago Public Schools have implemented restorative justice initiatives, led by the non-profit organization UMOJA Student Development Corporation, in a number of schools district-wide. Friedrich had been adapting Peace Rooms with interactive theater methods in his freshman classes in Jackson, Mississippi. Peace Rooms act as locations that allow for decompression from societal aspects that divide people. Similarly, interactive theater techniques help participants develop meaningful dialogue around these issues. As the Chair of the Taskforce on Interactive Theater for the ATHE conference, Friedrich saw an opportunity to bring his work utilizing Peace Rooms back to Chicago, where the conference was hosted this past August.
Having met Walter Director of Education and Engagement Willa Taylor through a previous workshop led by Education and Engagement partner Michael Rohd, Friedrich sought out the Goodman as a partner to help bring the project to ATHE attendees. Taylor recruited members of the Goodman’s GeNarrations and PlayBuild|Youth Intensive programs to participate in the creation of an interactive Peace Room to be presented at both the ATHE pre-conference on August 10 and the conference on August 13. This brought an intergenerational collaboration to the project that, while not often seen on a college campus, is emblematic of the work in the Goodman’s Education and Engagement department.
At their first meeting, Friedrich posed a question to the group: How do we demonstrate an interactive theater performance that promotes peace, doesn’t cost much money or require a mainstage space, and can easily be implemented in a college community? Within 45 minutes, the ensemble had the basic constructs of their concept. The group met multiple times over the course of the summer to build and refine characters for their “Hug Drive” concept. They took on the roles of “hug practitioners,” like Nurse Watchyoself, Dr. Connie Cuddles and Nurse Giggles, who led attendees through a series of stations to help determine the “hug type” they would find most comforting. This process included filling out a questionnaire and testing hug pressure. The circuit ended with the attendee receiving a hug from one of many certified hug practitioners.
At both the pre-conference and conference, the work was accepted with much enthusiasm to a point where the work was asked to travel to other institutions. As Friedrich puts it, interactive theater at a conference is a risk. It’s not often considered with other theatrical techniques or is compared to street theater. But, says Friedrich, “2016 is not year to play it safe when it comes to reaching to people.”