• Making Waves Banner

    Making Waves: Social Justice Theatre Troupe

    Making Waves: Social Justice Theatre Troupe at Hamline University uses the art of performance to provoke dialogue about race, gender, class and other issues that can threaten our diverse and collaborative community of learners. The troupe performs in classes, for staff and faculty development and for a wide variety of groups on and off campus, doing short plays followed by facilitated discussions where the audience enters into dialogue with the characters in the plays and then seeks solutions for the problems presented. We create plays based on what the troupe members are interested in, and by those who commission work specifically for their classrooms, trainings, or events. Since Making Waves’ inception, the troupe has performed for more than a thousand students, staff, faculty, and greater Hamline community members.


    In recognizing a need within the Hamline community for an alternative way to address social justice and equity issues on campus, Making Waves, was co-founded by Carolyn Levy, Professor of Theatre Arts, and Rachel Summers, Class of 2012. Levy and Summers collaborated in a thrilling and daunting process to use theatre as a vehicle for social change and critical engagement with students, staff, and faculty. In AY 2009-2010, research about social justice theatre work at various universities around the country began. Levy and Summers both attended a Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop led by Julian Boal in New York City and then used those models in the development of a collaborative research project in Summer 2010 between Summers and Levy. The collaborative research resulted in 20 interviews with past and present students about their experiences with oppression on Hamline’s campus to later be turned into plays for the troupe, and the creation of an experimental Theatre and Social Change course, bolstering the first social change-based interactive theatre troupe in the history of Hamline University, Making Waves.

    Through auditions in November 2010, 25 members reflecting the diversity of the Hamline campus in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion were selected. Eight were students of color. Seven identified themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. Most identified as Christian of some sort. There were three Jews, one Muslim and at least one Atheist. There were nine theatre majors /minors and others who were already involved in the Theatre department. But many, particularly the students of color, were new to the work of our department. The members came to the troupe with a variety of interests- acting, writing, research, directing, etc. No experience was necessary to join; We were looking for an interest in and a commitment to doing the work of social justice. In founding the troupe we were committed to accepting a wide range of students – even some with very little performance experience. Even those who did have experience were engaging materials that were, for the most part, very different from the safer "roles" that they could expect in formal staged productions. The personal nature of the material, the absolute exposure (no makeup, no costumes, no lights) could have resulted in panic, or a fallback into stereotypes - that did not happen. It did not happen because of the training we did and the atmosphere that allowed students to openly talk about very personal and sensitive issues. That grounding made it possible for them to move their experiences into a play that could be shared. The group decided what issues they wanted to tackle. They shared stories from their personal lives and collected stories from others. From these, they improvised and ultimately wrote the material we performed. Then we rehearsed not only the plays, but also the in-depth look at the characters necessary for them to participate in the interactive discussions, where the audience engages with the characters (not the actors.) We have continued to grow and thrive every year since 2010.

    The Work

    The work of MAKING WAVES gets right to the heart of much of the mission of Hamline. In particular addressing the stated values of: the “creation, dissemination, and practical application of knowledge,” multicultural competencies, and most of all “an individual and community ethic of social justice, civic responsibility, and inclusive leadership and service.”

    The students in the troupe are willing to tackle the hard questions. What they have gained in personal growth was matched by what they brought to the groups for whom they performed. We are proud of them for what they have brought and continue to bring to our campus and to the work they have begun with students younger than themselves. Another stand out was watching the relationships that formed among the members- unlikely friendships between and among very different people who grew in their understanding of one another.

    Plays Created in AY 2013-2014

    • White Privilege
    • Student Workers
    • Religious Intolerance: A day in the life of a Muslim student
    • Intersectionality
    • It’s Just Not Fair: Disability issues on Campus
    • Supporting a Survivor: Secondary Victims of Sexual Violence
    • Thanksgiving: Facing friends and family back home after experiencing a shift in values in college
    • Test Anxiety: Expectations borne by students based on race & gender

    Other Plays in Our Repertoire

    • Targhetto: Racism and classism in our language and geographical setting
    • We Don’t Have That Problem Here: Pronouns and Gender Binary issues in the workplace
    • What Are You?: Questions faced by people of various marginalized identities
    • Pressure Cooker: Hunger and Class issues faced by students
    • Tenant and Landlord: Discrimination based on a domestic violence situation
    • Just Kidding: Heterosexism in our language
    • Coffee Hour: Examining issues of same sex marriage in the church
    • Trans Coming Out
    • Resumes: Dealing with microaggressions surrounding queer students
    • Teacher’s Lounge: Faculty racism towards students
    • Rape Bystander

    Testimonials and Evaluations

    In AY 2013-2014, Making Waves implemented evaluation forms to audiences to receive general feedback about content portrayed in performances and most importantly how valuable it is for communities to engage in conversations around social change. Over 80% surveyed on a scale of 1-10, chose between 8-10. Here are some reasons why:

    “I’d say 10 for this one. Such performances can offer a place for us to step back and look in the mirror—helps us see and reflect.” 

    “10, without engagement in conversations no social change will occur. We must bring up the topics of issue to fix them.” 

    “10- extremely important. Without discussion, there is no progress.” 

    “10. There are a lot of social issues that people are afraid of just because they don’t really understand them. Open and non-threatening discussion is one of the best ways to educate people.” 

    “10- very important. What makes us different makes us stronger.” 

    “10- absolutely crucial. No matter what they do beyond Hamline they will deal with social justice topics.” 

    “Very important 10. Students need to be open minded and aware of our society because we are the future.” 

    “10. This affects everything we do, how we create and keep relationships.” 

    “8. I believe that social change is something everyone needs to be a part of.” 

    “10-All fields of study need to know about social justice issues and working with others and other points of view.” 

    Additional Feedback

    “Terrific- Safe to say this engaged & stirred every student- something we don’t always accomplish in the typical classroom.” Professor Bill Snyder, Wall Street Journal FYSEM

    “Wonderful actors! They did so well embodying their characters in Q & A!” 

    “I originally thought this would be dull, but after watching it, it was interesting. Definitely would watch again.” 

    “Being white, Catholic, straight, and male has usually given me a life of little to no racial, religious, orientation or gender diversity, so realizing the lives that others live in different context to my own is eye opening.” 

    “The entire piece hit home. This is essentially my life.” (Intersections). 

    “I think social justice pervades through every aspect of life. “ 

    “Social justice intersects greatly with my work in Spectrum and participation in APAC.” 

    “A great way to expose the audience to the reality of these social justice issues is through a play versus a speech. Well done.” 

    “I want to congratulate you and your troupe for such a thought provoking performance yesterday. What a wonderfully unique and fabulous job of presenting an issue and going through a purposeful discussion. Carolyn, your non-judgmental and non-confrontational manner of engaging the audience in purposeful dialog was key to creating a ‘teachable moment’ for attendees. I hope to be in the audience for many more of these presentations.” –A Hamline Trustee 

    “I think groups like the Theatre Troupe are the best way to educate young people on issues… it often takes something as interesting and different as the Troupe to get people interested. I hope the Troupe continues to grow and develop. I think they could really benefit the Hamline community.” 

    Where We've Been (AY 2013-2014)

    Fall 2013

    14 performances:
    Multicultural Mosaic (1); Intro to Theatre (1); FYSEM’s (6); Intro to Soc (3 sections); Legal Systems in America (1); Intro to Religion (1); English Learners-Grad Ed (1); Property Law-Law School (2 sections); Multicultural Alliance (1); Making Waves Fall Public Performance (1).

    Winter 2014

    2 performances:
    Feminist Philosophy; Islam

    Spring 2014

    13 performances:
    Student Worker Diversity Training-for students (5); Student Worker Diversity Training- for supervisors (1); Methodist Extension Ministers Conference; Social Movements (1); Intro to Religion (2); Dialogue on Disability (1); Literacy Connections in the Classroom -Grad Ed (1); Sexual Violence Prevention Awareness Week (1); Making Waves Spring Public Performance (1)

    Where We're Going

    Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference
    June 27-29, 2014 | University of Nebraska at Omaha

    Presentation Title:
    So You Wanna Start a Social Justice Theatre Troupe on Your Campus?

    Director: Carolyn Levy, Assistant Director: Rachel Summers, and featured performances by Making Waves: Social Justice Theatre Troupe