Suzanne Burgoyne

Professor Suzanne Burgoyne (left) has announced a $1 million estate gift to fund the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research at MU. The dramatic gift announcement at the Rhynsburger Theatre included an interactive-theater demonstration, featuring MU actors such as doctoral student Will Palmer and sophomore Kelsey Clark.

One Mizzou professor’s approach to theater has audiences leaping out of their seats. And talking to the performers. And influencing the story lines. In the hands of Suzanne Burgoyne, a Curators professor of theater, the dramatic arts have therapeutic and educational applications, serving as tools for improving communication and affecting social justice.

MU Center for Applied Theatre

Suzanne Burgoyne.

Professor Suzanne Burgoyne directs an interactive-theater performance.

Thanks to a $1 million gift, the active-learning strategies Burgoyne has developed for more than 35 years can reach more students and more audiences in increasingly diverse fields. Burgoyne has pledged an estate gift to fund the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research in the MU Department of Theatre.

“I believe theater is a powerful art form — one that allows us to explore what it means to be human,” Burgoyne told the crowd gathered in Rhynsburger theater for a very theatrical gift announcement March 9. “I am grateful for the opportunity to provide a means of sustaining work in applied theater for generations of students to come.”

Burgoyne, an MU faculty member since 1989, co-founded the interdisciplinary Interactive Theatre Troupe with colleague Clyde Ruffin in 2003. In interactive theater, one of several forms applied theater can take, actors perform short, research-based plays about complex problems and then give audiences the chance to intervene

A pioneer in applied theater, Burgoyne was a co-investigator on two related major grants, the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues initiative and the Mizzou NSF ADVANCE program, and has led major educational projects. She is also a recipient of Mizzou’s Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence and has been Fulbright Fellow, a Kellogg National Fellow and a Pew Carnegie Scholar.

Difficult Dialogues

Applied-theater techniques open new avenues of creativity and create safe spaces for discussion of sensitive matters. As part of the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues initiative, Burgoyne and the Interactive Theatre Troupe have developed sketches addressing topics such as religious pluralism, race, gender, class and sexual orientation. Other recent performances have tackled body image and nutrition.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin says Burgoyne’s work in the Difficult Dialogues program is integral in broadening cultural perspectives and helping people regard issues from other points of view.

“These inter-group dialogues really bring out important things you never have seen before; even though your eyes are open, you weren’t seeing them,” Loftin says. “Dr. Burgoyne is a credit to the MU faculty and the entire academic community.”

Funded by Burgoyne’s gift, the center expands participants’ research options and broadens the possibilities for interdisciplinarity.

Speaking of Health

Heather Carver, a breast cancer survivor and theater professor, has helped forge a union between the dramatic arts and medical education. After developing and performing one-woman shows about her own experiences, Carver worked with Burgoyne to create learning opportunities for future health-care providers, conducting ethnographic research and writing scripts addressing doctor-patient communication related to breast cancer.

Grants from the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Mid-Missouri and Mizzou Advantage funded the collaboration among faculty and graduate students in theater, nursing, medicine and MU Extension. The troupe has performed interactive shows about breast cancer throughout the state.