Theatre Of Change

In the ever-advancing technological world we live in, media continues to evolve as a means where programs for social change can reach a wide-ranging, extensive audience.  These media initiatives often involve highly stylized, slickly produced commercial type media presentations like the ones found on the Rescue Agency’s website which target social behaviors such opioid and marijuana use. They aim to educate a targeted audience about the possible dangers of these substances.  Their website boasts claims of their campaign’s effectiveness.  However, what about the effectiveness of less flashy interventions, like that of theatre of art?  Can fictional narratives in excess of 30 second cautionary bursts prove effective in addressing social change?  Can live theatre and art installations persuade the public in ways that lead to real change when it comes to social issues?  And if so, how effective are these methods?

There are several factors that make theater an effective vehicle for education and persuasion.  Being in the presence of live actors promotes attentiveness and arousal of the viewers.  This can be quite affective when dealing with subject matter related so pressing social issues (Appel, 2008). Another facet of live theater that makes it a well-suited vehicle for persuasion and education is that it is emotionally engaging.  This can play an important role in the changing of positions and principles of people and cause them to act in a more socially responsible way.  One study examined the effectiveness of the performance of play dealing with women in abusive relationships and how myths surrounding these relationships led women to act or react a certain way and how these abusive relationships affected women in both a physical and psychological manner.  The study found that those who watched a play about abusive relationships not only demonstrated greater knowledge about relationship abuse than the control group but were also less likely to endorse myths about relationship abuse. Audiences of the entertainment-education intervention also showed specific patterns of knowledge that mirrored the content of the abuse play (Yoshihama & Tolman, 2015). Those who watched a play about abusive relationships not only demonstrated greater knowledge about relationship abuse than control groups but were also less likely to endorse myths about relationship abuse.

Flashy, short-burst media presentations may prove effective in some circumstances, but social change psychological research shouldn’t count out the effectiveness of other forms of media as well.



Appel, M. (2008). Fictional narratives cultivate just-world beliefs. Journal of Communication, 58, 62–83.

Yoshihama, M., & Tolman, R. M. (2015). Using interactive theater to create socioculturally relevant community-based intimate partner violence prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1), 136-147. doi:10.1007/s10464-014-9700-0

1 comment

  1. I think that theatre champions social change. You look at plays like American Son starring Kerry Washington (now a movie). The whole play was about racial injustice and police brutality. This is something that gets people talking, its a version of informed entertainment. We are so used to watching everything through a screen that we have adapted the way our minds process information. People who once needed to read to retain data have become visual learners. This art form takes advantage of those senses. Another play that comes to mind is A Girl in the Mirror. This touched on teen suicide and its effects. Something like this may seem dark but its a good way to get teens and children to become aware of signs and factors that contribute to depression and suicide prevention. Certain conversations are difficult to initiate so theater steps in and acts like a middle man.

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