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$1 Million Gift to Fund Applied Theater Research

Gift from MU faculty member will advance the study and performance of interactive theater

March 9th, 2015

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Suzanne Burgoyne, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri, has given a $1 million estate gift to MU to create the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research in the Department of Theatre in the MU College of Arts and Science. The new center will expand opportunities to use theater techniques as active learning strategies in a number of disciplines and industries.

“The establishment of the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research will enhance the global reputation of our theater department,” said Heather Carver, associate professor and chair of the MU Department of Theatre. “We will be able to welcome scholars from around the world to engage in researching performance for social justice. Dr. Burgoyne is already a national and international scholar of applied theater; the center will become a destination location for students who want to study social justice performance. Her interactive theater troupe already has been a vital part of our program for years, but her gift to continue the work of the center helps sustain the program far into the future.”

The new center will fund a research focus on theater and drama as a vehicle for social justice, communication and creativity, an effort Carver says is integral to addressing important societal problems. In applied theater, researchers study ways in which participatory theater can engage groups of people to investigate complex issues in our culture. Interdisciplinary in nature, applied theater is a powerful way of collaborating with others in exploring what it means to be human, including issues of race, gender, sexuality, disability, health, violence and other areas of study where communication is vital to finding solutions.

One example of interactive theater as an educational tool was when Burgoyne and her students performed for medical students at the MU School of Medicine in order to teach them about doctor/patient communication concerning breast cancer. Based on ethnographic research by Carver, actors trained by Burgoyne performed various scenarios between doctor and patient. The actors stayed in character to respond to questions from the medical student audience, and audience members were invited onstage to try out their own strategies to improve communication. Burgoyne says she is passionate about interactive theater because it provides a medium to discuss such controversial issues in a civil manner and allows these conversations to occur in a safe space.

“Theater is an amazing active learning tool, even more so for the performers than the audience,” Burgoyne said. “Performing theater is an opportunity to experience the world through the eyes of the playwright, to develop empathy, to learn things about how the world works and to experience creativity in action. We are not doing enough to teach creativity, and applied theater is a great way to introduce students to new, innovative ways of thinking. I hope the new Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research will open doors for future funding and research into an area that will be vital for human achievement in the 21st century.”

“Through her generosity and dedication to her craft, it is obvious that Dr. Burgoyne is passionate about theater education,” said MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. “Dr. Burgoyne is a credit to the MU faculty and to the entire academic community. She is a model of how giving back to the University can not only improve education and important research, but also extend the goals, passions and dreams of donors beyond their lifetimes.”

Burgoyne has been a member of the MU faculty since 1989. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, the Kellogg National Fellowship, was a 2000-’01 Pew Carnegie Scholar and the 2003 Association for Theatre in Higher Education Outstanding Teacher of Theatre in Higher Education. In 2004, she received an MU Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. Burgoyne co-founded the MU Interactive Theatre Troupe with fellow theater professor Clyde Ruffin in 2003.  She was a co-investigator on two major MU grants involving interactive theater: the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues initiative and the Mizzou NSF ADVANCE program.