Snyder-Young's Book Examines Social Change Through Theatre
Sept. 27, 2013
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Much has been written about theatre’s capacity to create social
change, but a new book by an Illinois Wesleyan University theatre faculty member examines
what theatre can and cannot do in that regard.
Theatre of Good Intentions: Challenges and Hopes for Theatre and Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) focuses on Applied Theatre and was written by Dani Snyder-Young,
assistant professor of theatre arts and head of the Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts
Snyder-Young said she uses the term ‘Applied Theatre’ to refer to a wide range of
practices which can include classroom drama, community-based performance, prison theatre,
educational theatre and social theatre, to name a few. Applied Theatre orients the
collaborative storytelling process of theatre toward a goal or set of goals, said
Through her examination of a wide range of contemporary applied and political theatre
case studies, Snyder-Young said that applied theatre practitioners often work within
marginalized groups to give a voice to the voiceless. She and other scholars note
that few theatre projects actively attempt to intervene in discussions of policy within
those with power to change that policy. To continue to focus projects exclusively
within marginalized groups is absurd, she said.
Snyder-Young devotes a small section of the book to identifying her own biases as
a privileged, educated faculty member “who can afford the luxury of time to write
a monograph” about theatre’s possibilities and limitations.
She wrote the book, she said, because she believed artists and intellectuals are likewise
privileged and should use their social and cultural capital strategically in order
to maximize the impact.
“I am troubled when I see an unjust world in which access to opportunity is not distributed
evenly, politically polarizing sound bites frame public discourse and leave little
room for civic dialogue, and a global corporate elite consolidates more and more power,”
she writes. “I began facilitating applied theatre out of a desire to intervene in
this broken world.”
Snyder-Young said she hopes fellow artists continue to attempt to make change in a
broken world, but that they should acknowledge alternative methods such as voter registration
drives or transporting voters to polling places might produce more effective results.
“Artists and activists must identify whether theatre is the intervention their circumstances and goals required,” she writes. “Sometimes,
its liveness, its balance between intimacy and distance, its poeticism, and its playful
collaboration are just the things a project needs. And sometimes they are not.”
Snyder-Young joined the faculty at Illinois Wesleyan in 2008 after earning master’s
and doctoral degrees from New York University. As a director, critic and dramaturg
(a professional position within a theatre or opera company that deals mainly with
research and development of plays or operas), her work focuses primarily on political
theatre, community-based performance, new play development and adaptations of classical
texts for diverse audiences. She is the founder and artistic director of TangleKnot
Theatre, a nonprofit theatre company formed to create plays centered on social and
An artist-in-residence with Chicago’s Halcyon Theatre, Snyder-Young also serves as
Chicago NewCrit Critic for HowlRound, an online theatre journal.
Contact: Kim Hill, (309) 556-3960