Mixed Reality applied theatre at universities


Educators have used applied theatre in classrooms throughout the 20th century (Prentki & Preston, 2013). Often taking the form of constructivist role plays, the pedagogical use of applied storytelling engages documentary evidence and personal narratives to develop knowledge by and for students. As part of this practice, educators have used visual media as motivational springboards and props. With the advent of contemporary Mixed Reality' (MR)1 headsets and capable mobile devices, educators can use new spatial and interactive affordances as part of an applied theatre pedagogy. Such pedagogy aligns with current trends in research into MR’s pedagogical affordances (Garzon & Acevedo, 2019). However, while the use of MR in pedagogy has been proven to increase student motivation and engagement (Cheng, 2017), there is debate on whether the technology alone accomplishes this goal (Garzon & Acevedo, 2019) equally across subject domains (Sirakaya & Gakmak, 2018). Additionally, instructional concepts for using MR have not been fully explored by scholars (Barroso Osuna, Gutierrez-Castillo, Llor- ente-Cejudo, & Valencia Ortiz, 2019) leaving some educators at a loss as to how to use the technology' effectively. In response to these concerns, this chapter seeks to fill a knowledge gap and presents a lesson plan for MR applied theatre in a university classroom. The plan has been developed from insights derived from examples of an applied theatre method called Theater of the Oppressed. It was developed by the dramaturg Augusto Boal, who was inspired by the pedagogical tenets of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy' of the Oppressed (Boal, 1993).

Applied theatre: a dramaturgical pedagogy

Applied theatre encompasses a wide range of performance practices that put the community' first (Nicholson, 2011). The goals are twofold. The first is developing knowledge about a particular event or subject (Prentki & Preston, 2013). This process might include students sharing personal stories or bringing in subject matter material. Augusto Boal encouraged his students to construct scenarios from their communities. These scenes might include the seemingly mundane, such as waiting for a bus or having a family dinner. Boal’s dramatic techniques for clarifying these moments helped participants generate knowledge upon which they could act.

The second goal of applied theatre is the use of information generated during role plays to motivate action (White, 2015). The kind of information developed determines the target of that motivation. For Augusto Boal, targets included corrupt and oppressive landlords (Boal, 1993). For dramaturgs in the League of Workers Theaters, applied performances sought systematic change in labour laws for worker empowerment (Cheng, 2017). Critically, the dramaturg only frames and directs the applied theatre process. Whatever action manifests is carried out by the participants themselves.

To reach these two goals, a process of critical reflection must occur. In order to achieve critical reflection, Augusto Boal relied upon observations made by his predecessor, pedagogist Paulo Freire (Boal, 1993). Freire sought to achieve conscientizacao, conscientization, an elevation of critical consciousness to the point of being able to see the world differently (Freire, 2005). From tins new situated perspective, students can create knowledge and then can clarify a response. Augusto Boal relied upon his theatre practices to achieve this effect. His role plays enabled villagers to participate in unexpected situated perspectives. In line with work done by Brigit Schmitz, applied theatre methodologies can use interaction design patterns to scaffold immersive learning (Schmitz, Klemke, Walhout, & Specht, 2015). Specifically, building upon Freire and Boal, the spatial and interactive affordances of MR can be used to achieve a new kind of critical consciousness.

Using MR in a dramaturgical pedagogy

Within both applied theatre and Human-Computer Interaction literature, performance is commonly used as an analogy or metaphor to explore interactivity (Laurel, 2013; Stone, 1996; Turkle, 1997). MR extends these observations by instantiating three-dimensional content into physical reality, on the theatre’s stage. The presence of an MR model fills a performance space (Fisher, 2019; Gandy et al., 2010; Holz et al., 2011). This non-physical presence is unique to reality media like MR. The physical space is both empty and full; it contains both nothing and a 3D model. For the user, it is an enticing dichotomy. It is the kind of structure that Boal believes a stage space needs for participants to engage in critical reflection (Boal, 1993).

Boal has a concept of gnostic space wherein two opposites can be contained within the same mutable perfonnance space: activated participants or media artefacts perfonn these opposites (Boal, 2002). For example, one participant might portray those who believe in climate change, and another plays those who are science deniers. To explore the dichotomy, participants act out scenes through theatre games and activities (Boal, 2002). For example, participants may read or pantomime newspaper headlines about climate change. Each participant represents the opposite perspective. They enact one headline and then the opposing headline. Together, the participants critique and find similarities between the headlines. As they respond, the performance becomes a site for critical reflection.

Just as applied theatre uses embodied movement and dramatic techniques to motivate action, so too can the presence of MR. As participants create these MR representations, they create knowledge. The students learn about the subjects in their scene, how they as a group perceive those subjects and gain literacy in MR’s affordances (Gifreu-Castells & Moreno, 2014). Interactive documentary scholar Sandra Gaudenzi (2013) has talked of these kinds of participator)', interactive experiences as living documentaries. Over time, as participants change the scene by adding content or modifying what exists, their experience evolves. As perspectives shift and participation continues, the process of critical reflection becomes more expansive and pluralist as new participants engage with the material. Boal’s theatre games provide tactics to encourage this form of participation. MR adds a new route of inquiry and reflection to these tactics that are spatial, interactive, and embodied through digital materiality that has a tangible presence (Fisher, 2016).

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