Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Devising Theatre: Using Personal Narrative to Transform Social Conflict

Ellen W. Kaplan.

The paper examines the efficacy of story-telling in response to both personal trauma and to social crisis. Shaping and staging narrative based on personal story allows performers and audience to reflect on and integrate experience, and in this way is of great value in the healing process. This is true when individual experience is part of a larger social “trauma” and the community or nation is riven. Community-based ensemble theatres which develop material from personal narrative encourage a sense of collective identity and political agency. However, unmediated representation is not as effective as distanced – mythologized, theatricalized – treatment of story.

Specific examples of devised theatre, including Palestinian-Israeli co-existence projects in which teens attempt to build bridges and foster reconciliation, and a community-based theatre project about the emotional impact on families of unemployment in Greensboro, North Carolina, describe the means by which participants draw from their life experience to move beyond mere fact into the realm of aesthetic and political agency.


Ellen W. Kaplan  (United States)
Associate Professor
Theatre Department
Smith College

Playwright, actor, director, and theatre educator. Performs & directs internationally, recipient of a Fulbright grant to Costa Rica, presently a Fulbright Senior Scholar. She produced two video documentaries most recently on Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe, and an interactive CD-ROM on performing works of Juan Rulfo. Also active for 20 years in theatre outreach, working in prisons and with disadvantaged youth. In Israel this year, she wrote and directed several new plays & worked with inter-cultural (Arab and Jewish) theatre groups across the country.

  • Devised Theatre
  • Grassroots Theatre
  • Social Conflict and Reconciliation

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)