By Rachel Rhoades

I am thrilled to announce that I have completed my dissertation from a study funded by Young People’s Theatre’s Ada Slaight Drama in Education Award. My deepest gratitude to [YPT Artistic Director] Allen MacInnis, [former Interim Artistic Associate, Education] Lois Adamson, and all of the YPT staff who enabled my research to take place in the most ideal conditions. You allowed the youth unlimited freedom to critique, imagine and express their views of the world in the most welcoming space.

I will be forever grateful that you selected me to receive the Ada Slaight Drama in Education Award and for all of the support and trust you gave me in bringing my research dreams to life.

And to my youth participants, whose passion for justice and the possibilities of theatre have taught me so much more than I thought possible when I was designing the project. Thank you for creating such a beautiful community of care and hope with me, and for all of your bravery and heart. Your critiques of the world are so astute, and you bring me inspiration and motivation to keep fighting in the midst of so much despair and fury. You are brilliant artists and political thinkers, and this is only just a small part of your impact on the world, of that I’m sure.

Below is the abstract for my dissertation entitled, Youth Artists for Justice: Examining Participation in Social Movements and Envisioning Futures through Applied Theatre:

This study examines how racialized, socioeconomically under-resourced secondary school-age youth in Toronto conceptualize their current and future roles within contemporary social movements and the larger political sphere. This collaborative ethnodrama action research study, Youth Artists for Justice, involved 12 participants ages 15-20, consisting mainly of racialized, socioeconomically under-resourced youth. The study expands understanding of how youth envision and enact political participation within the current context of ongoing racism in this neoliberal era. A goal of the program was to garner within these particular youth a sense of hope and capacity to conceptualize and enact their political agency. This research contributes to scholarly discourses of drama methodology and secondary school-age youth participation in social movements by examining how ethnodrama as a methodology supports youth in further developing theories of change, envisioning their own potential political roles, and entering into participation on their terms. Applied theatre practices in this study created space to honour and to apply counter-hegemonic knowledges, to embrace and mobilize emotional expression, to disrupt power, to enrich collective agency, and to perform a public performance with political efficacy.

Findings show the need to attend to the sense of existential displacement and foreboding that many youth participants reported experiencing when envisioning the future. Another major finding points to how the Toronto youth participants, through the theatre-making processes, related to the embodiment of solidarity. In this study, devised theatre work with marginalized youth serves as a means of analyzing, experiencing, and modeling solidarity and its strategic importance as a modality for countering systemic injustice. Using a critical youth studies and applied theatre lens, this research expands discourse on how youth desire and strategize the means by which to enact both major structural change and local movement-building outside of neoliberal structures.

If you would like to read more or have any comments or queries, I would be thrilled to communicate with you. Please feel free to contact me: rachel.rhoades@mail.utoronto.ca

Rachel Rhoades
PhD Student | Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning (CTL)
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education | University of Toronto
416.458.1898 l rachel.rhoades@mail.utoronto.ca

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