Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Susanne SooHoo


Educational drama is a term that has in recent years achieved a pride of place in the field of arts-based research. During previous centuries, however, drama was considered anathema to formal learning and theaters themselves were considered “sinks of uncleanliness” (Coggin, 1956, p. 38). Only in recent history has educational drama been considered a legitimate means of teaching and learning. While Dorothy Heathcote, Gavin Bolton, Richard Courtney and others have helped to legitimize the fecund role that drama plays in learning, there has, to date, been a dearth of studies utilizing interdisciplinary approaches such as playbuilding (a participatory arts-based research methodology) in the context of critical pedagogy and its emphasis on developing critical self-reflexivity and critical praxis among students. Furthermore, little research of this nature has found its way into educational research in international settings. This current research project involves eight Chinese graduate student volunteers from a teacher training university in Northeast China who agreed to pursue the collective project of creating a theatrical production; and performing in front of a select audience of their peers and professors. The main part of the research (the collective creation of a play) took place over 5 weeks, with a total of 8 playbuilding sessions: two sessions each week, consisting of 6 hours per session, followed by a live theatrical performance. The fundamental question framing this research project is posed as follows: How can the process of playbuilding serve as a creative means for students to problem-pose their university experiences through the development of protagonistic agency (i.e., from the role of a spectator to that of an actor)? The researcher served as the lead researcher, facilitated the creation of the play and served as an actor in the theatrical production. Her responsibilities were to introduce the students to improvisational drama, and the playbuilding approach, and to co-create with her participants conditions that would result in what the researcher named “protagonistic agency.” Throughout their collective creation process, the group demonstrated various ways to embody protagonistic agency.

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Creative Commons License
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