A photograph of a flat field of long brown grass. Overhead, the sky is a deep blue and is filled with great pink and purple fluffy clouds.

“Why Study Theatre?”

Examining Claims for a Post-Secondary Liberal Arts Theatre
Education in Canada

Saturday, June 26, 2021 | 9:30 - 11:00

Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.


Join in Room C

Isolation. Racial injustice. Political polarization. Growing inequalities of wealth and opportunity. Pandemic. 2020's swirling gyre of social disruption has made more visible a trend that has been well-documented in the social sciences for decades toward increasing social atomization and loneliness, perhaps given its fullest empirical study in Robert Putnam's influential 2000 text, Bowling Alone .

Educators in theatre and performance are often heard presenting our field as a remedy to such social ills with appeals to the virtues of community building or shared co-presence. But what if the very model and design of theatre education, particularly at the post-secondary level in so-called 'liberal arts' theatre programs, has grown to be highly individualized, evidently focused on the accumulation of marketable skills as professional assets? What ideologies, what educational theory, what deep values do our curricula reflect, and are they as we would have them?

For this paper, the research team will present findings from year one of Belongings: Reimagining a Liberal Arts Theatre Education in Canada , a new empirical study of post-secondary, liberal arts theatre studies in Canada. The presenters will share the results of national mapping of theatre programs in Canada taking inventory of the public value claims being made for a theatre education at present, particularly around learning and professional outcomes. The researchers will share the ways this first step informs the anticipated multi-year, national survey and case-study based project aiming to articulate a new collectivist pedagogy for theatre education, one based on building social and relational knowledge, advancing decolonization, and expanding our capacities for empathy and care.


Barry Freeman is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies, and currently Chair of UTSC’s Arts, Culture & Media Department. He is the author of Staging Strangers: Theatre & Global Ethics, co-editor of In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions, Associate Editor of Canadian Theatre Review. He is currently PI of Belongings, and co-lead on PLEDGE.

Keira Mayo is a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies in collaboration with the Women and Gender Studies Institute. Her research examines the relationship between racial capitalism and theatrical improvisation in post-2000 North America. Keira currently works as an editorial assistant for Theatre Research in Canada. She is committed to anti-racist praxes, collaborative art-making, and going slowly.

Jeff Gagnon is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies and University of Toronto, Scarborough. His doctoral dissertation, Tactical Dramaturgies: Media, the State, and the Performance of Place-Based Activism, develops a theory of protest tactics and mobilizations and the performance of ethical, aesthetic, and philosophical responses to contested relationships between state and space. He is also a research and digital publishing fellow with The Theatre Times.

Malika Daya is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Critical Development Studies, specializing in International Development with a double minor in Sociocultural Anthropology and Theatre and Performance Studies. She is interested in exploring the intersections of these disciplines, specifically how community engaged arts can be a vehicle for development.