Theatre staging drives social change: author

UVic instructor studied audiences’ reactions to plays

University of Victoria instructor Will Weigler writes in his new book Strategies for Playbuilding that theatre can be a vehicle for social change.

By Tim Collins

Will Weigler teaches a first year applied theatre course at the University of Victoria.  It’s a good job for someone who has spent years as a director, producer, playwright and actor. His true passion, however, is community theatre. He believes that this form of “applied theatre” can be an important driving force for community development, education and social change.

Weigler surveyed and compiled hundreds of accounts from theatre goers, critics and others in the industry to discover the patterns in composition and staging that led to those “aha!” moments in theatre.

“It was amazing,” Will says, “I reviewed the experiences of theatre lovers and critics all over the world and found that the same patterns kept emerging.”

Through a method called grounded theory, Weigler says that he discovered the common factors that lead to those periods of esthetic arrest when a theatre audience sets aside its preconceived notions. It’s at that point the audience is open to a new encounter with the subject matter and the development of new ideas and viewpoints. It’s an important accomplishment for groups who may suffer from societal prejudices.

The path to achieving those moments of epiphany is the basis for a new book Weigler is composing. In the book he will draw upon his research to detail what he says are five key categories in staging, each with six to ten variations. It’s a blueprint and a new vocabulary to more effectively achieve powerful and meaningful productions.

“It’s a unifying thread; a powerful method for a community to voice their experiences and through that voice to effect social change,” Weigler says. “We all filter our experience through a veil of preconceived ideas.” These types of staging tear away that veil and allows for the audience to have a fresh encounter with the subject matter.

It’s also a method that allows for all members of a group to share in the creative process. It allows for their voice to emerge in the final work and encourages cross cultural and intergenerational co-operation in the development of the play.  “In the end, by using this new vocabulary and by focusing on the five key categories of staging, groups can speak the same language and share their experience and viewpoints to create a more effective message.”

This isn’t a new passion for Weigler. He is the author of an award-winning book called Strategies for Playbuilding: Helping Groups Translate Issues into Theatre. In the late 1980s he founded a youth theatre company called the Young Actors’ Forum. His aim was to bring together youth from different cultures, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds to perform plays about their lives and perspectives. The forum is no longer running.

“I wrote Strategies for Playbuilding primarily in response to people who saw our (Youth Actors’ Forum) productions and encouraged me to write about our collective process,” Weigler says.

editor@oakbaynews.com

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