Recent Projects

Play, Performance, and Identity: How Instituions Structure Ludic Spaces.

This book, co-edited with Drew Chappell (California State University Fullerton), was released in February 2015 by Routledge as part of its Advances in Theatre & Performance Series. Contributors include a diverse array of established and emerging scholars in theatre & performance studies including Kane Anderson (University of Pudget Sound), Terry Brino-Dean (James Madison University), Jennifer Goodlander (Indiana University), Erin Horáková (Queen Mary University of London), Kimi Johnson (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), John Newman (Utah Valley University), Megan Sanborn Jones (Brigham Young University), Michael Schwartz (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Dani Snyder-Young (Illinois Wesleyan University), and Danielle Szlawieniec-Haw (York University).   

The book argues that play helps define who we are as human beings. However, many of the leisurely/ludic activities people participate in are created and governed by corporate entities with social, political, and business agendas. As such, it is critical that scholars understand and explicate the ideological underpinnings of played-through experiences and how they affect the player/performers who engage in them.

This book explores how people play and why their play matters, with a particular interest in how ludic experiences are often constructed and controlled by the interests of institutions, including corporations, non-profit organizations, government agencies, religious organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Each chapter explores diverse sites of play. From theme parks to comic conventions to massively-multiplayer online games, they probe what roles the designers of these experiences construct for players, and how such play might affect participants' identities and ideologies. The book investigates each site using tools of both qualitative inquiry and intentionally interdisciplinary interrogation that draws on theoretical lenses from theatre & performance studies, anthropology, cultural studies, education, leisure and recreation studies, literary theory, media studies, medicine, sociology, and psychology.

 

 

 

"Survey of School Theatre: A Landscape Survey of Theatre Education in United States High Schools"

This study assessed the state of theatre arts education in United States high schools during academic year 2011-2012. Building on the foundation of research laid by previous studies in 1970 and 1991, the project surveyed theatre educators and school administrators nation-wide regarding a broad range of topics such as educational theatre program models, perceived purposes and impacts of theatre programs, detailed demographic information regarding faculty demographics, training, and skills, the ways theatre arts curricula were designed and play production in schools. The entirety of the Fall 2012 issues of Teaching Theatre was dedicated to the study.

A series of supplemental articles were later published in Teaching Theatre Digital, including reports discussing how school theatre programs handled various social issues, the use of technology & new media in the classroom and in productions, the state of school theatre facilities, and comparisons between the state of theatre education in 2012, 1991, and 1970.  Another print article appeared in Teaching Theatre 25.1 (2013) that documents trends in theatre teacher training and student assessment. 

 

 

 

"Gaps, Silences, and Comfort Zones: Dominant Paradigms in Applied Theatre & Educational Drama Discourse."

This article, co-authored with Dani Snyder-Young (Illinois Wesleyan University), explores prevailing rhetoric in published scholarship in the field of educational drama and applied theatre, responding to O’Toole’s call to investigate if researchers in the field are ‘missing something vital by staying in our comfort zones’. He noted a ‘serious need for more usable, broad-based, and reliable baseline data to use for policy change and as starters for our research’ after reviewing the abstracts of the 86 sessions presented at the International Drama in Education Research Institute (IDIERI) 2009.

To explore if his findings were a microcosm of broader trends in the field, we reviewed over 400 peer-reviewed, English-language articles published over the last decade that addressed applied theatre or drama education. We asked the following:
(1)What research methods do authors utilise to conduct their studies?
(2)What types of results do these studies report?
(3)Do scholars based in certain geographic regions influence the field’s discourse disproportionately?
We share the data we collected from each article in light of these questions through a series of charts.

We then analyse the data and detail how the field’s self-imposed research paradigms create comfort zones that encourage certain types of research while creating conspicuous gaps and silences by limiting the modes of inquiry we employ and regulating what data we report. We conclude by discussing the difficulties that arise when we work within these safe confines while simultaneously striving to impact the discourse in the broader fields of education, theatre studies, performance studies and/or cultural studies, as well as legislation and policy beyond academia. We argue that these disciplinary boundaries are permeable, but that we must be able to translate our work into a variety of scholarly and lay languages.

 

 

 

Lifelong Impact: Adult Perceptions of their High School Theatre and/or Speech Participation

This study, co-authored with Laura McCammon (University of Arizona), Johnny Saldana (Arizona State University), and Angela Hines (Arizona State University), won the 2013 American Alliance for Theatre & Education Research Award, and includes two juried articles and a book chapter.

This study sought first to determine in what ways participation in high school theatre /speech classes and/or related extracurricular activities may have positively influenced and affected adults after graduation, and secondly, it sought to identify and advocate the potentially beneficial and “lifelong” impacts that speech /theatre participation during adolescence can contribute to adulthood. A mixed-methods survey was purposively distributed to North American adults who participated in these activities; 234 responses were received and analyzed. The key assertion of this study is: Quality high school theatre and speech experiences can not only influence but even accelerate adolescent development and provide residual, positive, lifelong impacts throughout adulthood.

 

 

 

"Adolescents' Affective Engagement with Theatre:  Surveying Middle School Students' Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs"

This essay, published in the International Journal of Education and the Arts, explores how viewing a single Theatre for Young Audiences production might affect the attitudes, values, and/or beliefs of adolescent spectators. Data is drawn from a mixed-methods case study performed with middle school students who viewed a professional performance for young people, and is considered through the lens of cognitive studies in light of advances in research considering the human mirror neuron system. Data suggest it is highly probable that under certain circumstances viewing a single Theatre for Young Audiences production can influence the values of adolescent spectators. The essay concludes by exploring the ethical ramifications of these findings.

© 2016 Matt Omasta, Ph.D.

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