Teatro Collective Blends 'Reflection, Art and Leadership'

Teatro Collective Blends 'Reflection, Art and Leadership'


Teatro Group

The Teatro Collective, a group of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social (SESP) policy graduate students, recently performed for -- and with -- Chicago–area educators who work with teens at the Chicago Public Library's Teen Services Conference.

Northwestern’s Teatro program, adapted and developed by Shirin Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences, is an artistic form of education that uses theatrical exercises and games to support the analysis and collective resolution of social problems. Unlike traditional theater, where the audience generally remains seated, teatro considers the spectators to be key participants or “spect-actors.”

“This type of theatre aims to blend reflection, art, and leadership,” said Vossoughi, who delivered the event’s keynote speech. “In the spirit of emancipatory social change and leadership development, the larger goal of teatro is to discuss and find creative solutions to common problems that liberate us without hurting others. Teatro is both a tool for social analysis and rehearsal for everyday life.”

After introducing the audience to the history and practice of teatro, Vossoughi and the graduate students performed three scenes they had designed involving tense classroom moment and related background scenes. They reenacted the skit multiple times, inviting the teachers, librarians, and other educators in the audience to practice responding in a similar situation. 

The final scene, for example, involved a student who continually antagonized a recent immigrant and emergent bilingual student. In line with the tenets of teatro, the educators intentionally decided not to address the moment, leading to an unsatisfying ending; all students -- and educators -- in the scene felt hurt and misunderstood in different ways.

“It highlighted the difficulties educators might experience in addressing political and social tensions (injustices) within the classroom,” said Ava Jackson, a member of the Teatro Collective and a learning sciences doctoral student. “The scene and subsequent iterations, where audience members could choose to become participants, gave the educators the chance to reflect on how the scene unfolded and think about what they would do differently.”

Afterward, Vossoughi led a discussion on the use of teatro as a pedagogical strategy, the scene they had performed, and possible responses to similar moments the teachers might encounter in their classrooms.

For doctoral candidate Trey Smith, a highlight came when the educators participated with the students on stage. “We were able to draw on our understandings of the characters we had created and respond in real time to any new directions the educators tried to take to resolve the conflict in the scene,” Smith said.

“In some cases, new conflicts emerged and audience members were able to critique the direction of the evolving scene and intervene by replacing someone else on stage. It was a rich opportunity for educators to explore pedagogical choices and their possible consequences.”

The annual professional development event was hosted in partnership with Chicago Public Schools.

Pictured, left to right: Jeremy Dunn, director of teen services, Chicago Public Library; Natalia Smirnov, learning sciences doctoral student; Trey Smith, learning sciences; Amanda Herrera, psychology; Sugat Dabholkar, learning  sciences; Shirin Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences; Ava Jackson, learning sciences; Christina Pei, learning sciences; Chris Leatherwood, learning sciences.


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 1/22/18