WMU News

Theatre is powerful tool for helping students

Nov. 9, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Two innovative educational theatre programs at Western Michigan University are helping students examine risk behaviors associated with alcohol use, sexual activity and a variety of other complex issues.

The two programs, "Great Sexpectations" and "No More Lies: A Workshop About Communities of Caring and the Alcohol Culture," use the power of theatre to link health and learning. They are being experienced by thousands of students this fall, and although some performances are for specific student groups, all are free and open to the public.

"Live theatre has the power to change the culture," says Francis P. Bilancio, director of Theatre for Community Health in WMU's Sindecuse Health Center.

"It has the capacity to engage student audiences more actively when presenting factual information than many traditional educational strategies do," he explains. "It allows us to offer prevention messages visually, aurally and cognitively and to employ presentational and participatory theatre techniques that involve students in dialogue and skill building."

The result, Bilancio says, is that both of the University's educational theatre programs stimulate critical thinking, moral development, and the capacity to transform harmful behaviors into protective behaviors for self and others.

One of the programs, "Great Sexpectations," has become a nationally recognized model of theatre for community health. It features student actors and opened its 10th performing season Oct. 16.

"Great Sexpectations" gives students a glimpse into the invisible world of hope and longing for meaningful love relationships in their lives. The show uses improvisation to explore common sexual and substance abuse concerns, with the goal of minimizing risk behaviors and helping students to carefully evaluate choices and consequences.

In the process, it presents compelling messages about interpersonal violence and unwanted and regretted sexual experiences while at the same time, affirming the capacity to create caring, healthy relationships.

The show annually reaches about 3,000 students and has traveled to campuses and conferences throughout the Midwest. It already is being staged this fall on campus in various classes and residence halls, with additional performances lined up for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, National Panhellenic Conference and Interfraternity Council.

Off-campus performances currently are scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Albion College and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

"Great Sexpectations" has been recognized by the Center for the Advancement of Public Health as one of four theatre education models highlighted in the 1997 "Promising Practices: Campus Alcohol Strategies for American Colleges and Universities Source Book." In addition, scripts and reproduction rights for the show have been purchased by several higher education institutions, including Stanford University, the University of Arizona and the University of Alabama.

"No More Lies" debuted this fall after having a successful pilot program in 1999. It adds an interactive dimension to educational theatre, providing an emotional experience through which students can examine individual and community relationships to alcohol in a safe, nonjudgmental manner.

Intended to create agents of change, the workshop gives students the chance to voice their opinions and concerns regarding alcohol and its second-hand effects, while recognizing and responding to problem situations. Each interactive performance is facilitated by a health education professional, a theatre-in-education specialist and student actors/peer educators.

The program is being experienced by about one-half of the University's fraternity and sorority population in partnership with the National Panhellenic Conference and Interfraternity Council and through numerous classes, especially large health and wellness classes. In addition, it is being infused into the curriculum in subjects such as holistic health and human development as well as in courses that prepare students for the education and helping professions.

"No More Lies" is in such demand this year that only on-campus performances are being scheduled at this time.

To learn more about WMU's educational theatre programs or to schedule a "Great Sexpectations" performance or "No More Lies" workshop, call Bilancio at (616) 387-2892. For information about currently scheduled show times and locations, call the Office of Health Promotion and Education at (616) 387-3263.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 616 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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