Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find: Playback Theatre and Character Education
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
with a concentration in Arts and Sciences
to the Graduate College of Union Institute & University
Maria David Curran
June 7, 2006
Kenneth Suslak, Ph. D.
Core Faculty Advisor
Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find was a social action project conducted at a public elementary school in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose population is primarily low-income, minority children. The purpose of the project was to promote empathy, character education, and community building through an interactive form of theatre called Playback Theatre. Local volunteer actors trained in this form of improvisational theatre performed on three separate dates for the fifth grade students at the school. Each production focused on a different character education theme that had been pre-selected by the fifth grade staff. Prior to the first performance the teachers and a group of eight students participated in a focus group discussion about character education and school climate. Students and teachers subsequently completed surveys regarding the three performances and two teachers and two students were interviewed in-depth regarding their impressions of the project and its effect on the school community.
The data from the student surveys were analyzed for various empathy-related and content-related responses. The data from the student surveys and interviews and the teacher evaluations and interviews were triangulated to further increase validity of the findings. The results indicate that Playback Theatre has great potential as a tool to promote empathy and related character education concepts with older elementary school students and staff. Recommendations for further implementation and evaluation are included.