Arts Based Knowledge Mobilization and the Role of Theatre / Le rôle du théâtre dans la mobilisation des connaissances par les arts

Theatre has a long tradition of being used as a vehicle of social influence like the morality plays of medieval and Tudor times. Theatre is an example of arts based knowledge mobilization and is an entertaining and engaging way to convey complex research informed messages.

Le théâtre sert depuis longtemps de vecteur d’influence sociale – les moralités du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance en sont un exemple. Le théâtre est un exemple de mobilisation des connaissances par les arts. C’est un moyen divertissant et engageant de transmettre des messages complexes fondés sur la recherche.

Queer Bathroom Stories posterI have previously writer about theatre as knowledge mobilization on March 3, 2011 in Mobilize This. I have more recently been involved in supporting a play written about the experiences families and teachers and children and youth dealing with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Len Whalen is a teacher and actor in Kingston, Ontario who wrote Jacob’s Story while collaborating with FASD researchers from NeuroDevNet, a Network of Centres of Excellence undertaking research, training and knowledge transfer on childhood neurodevelopmental disorders including FASD, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Cerebral Palsy. You can watch a short video about Jacob’s Story produced by the NeuroDevNet KT Core.

“Queer Bathroom Stories” will open your eyes to the secret sex life of the toilet. Based on real life experiences and in-person interviews, these passionate, funny and emotive stories reveal the complexities of gender identity and sexuality.” Queer Bathroom Stories is a play based on the SSHRC funded research of Sheila Cavanagh. Sheila received a SSHRC Standard Research Grant in 2008 and undertook interviews with 100 LGBTQ people who shared their stories of public bathrooms. The research sought to understand these spaces of sometimes oppression and sometimes affirmation. In 2010 she published a book on her research titled Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination, published by the University of Toronto Press.

In 2011 Sheila received a SSHRC Public Outreach Grant to turn her research into a play. Queer Bathroom Stories started its run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on May 31, 2014. The lines of the three actors, Chy Ryan Spain, Tyson James and Hallie Burt (see cast picture) played characters of all genders – male, female, genderqueer, transgender – and their lines were verbatim transcripts from Sheila’s interviews.

Queer Bathroom Stories Cast

This is theatre as knowledge mobilization. Queer Bathroom Stories took complex concepts derived from Sheila’s research and made them accessible to a diverse audience. Some of the performances featured an audience dialogue with Sheila to explore some of the issues in more depth. Sheila was making not only her research accessible but her expertise as well. The researchers in Seeing the Forest (mentioned in the post linked above) did the same thing and Jacob’s Story featured an audience dialogue not only with a researcher but with a teacher, a parent and an FASD child.

So what was the difference between the research and the knowledge mobilization? They have different goals. Research helps us understand LGBTQ experiences. Knowledge mobilization helps us accept those experiences and serve to inform attitudes and behaviours.

Without the knowledge mobilization of the play Sheila’s research would have remained discussed within scholarly societies. Through Queer Bathroom Stories a large audience can benefit from the research, deepen their understanding of being Queer and inform accepting attitudes about the interplay between society and LGBTQ people and the important role that public bathrooms play in their identity .

The play continues through to June 15 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

David Phipps, RIR-York

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