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Community-based theatre gives students 'the best of both worlds'

Brooke stands partially behind a red stage curtain and smiles.Whitworth's innovative Community-Based Theatre Program produces theatre that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," says Brooke Kiener, a 1999 Whitworth alumna and an assistant professor of theatre who conceived and directs the program.

"Whitworth Theatre has a rich tradition of engaging with the Spokane community to share stories and stimulate creativity, and the CBT Program grew out of that tradition," Kiener says. Whitworth's community-based theatre track prepares theatre majors to promote social action and to cultivate dialogue around social-justice issues in their communities.

Since the program's inception in 2007, Kiener's CBT students have researched local law-enforcement issues in partnership with Spokane's Center for Justice and produced an original show, Crossing the Line: An Investigation of the Police, Power and People, which students performed at the CenterStage theatre, in downtown Spokane.

‌Other students teamed up with low-income residents in Spokane to create and perform Wizdom: Making Dollars and Sense, at Spokane's Bing Crosby Theatre. Wizdom told the stories of actual people who live and work in Spokane, and who experience discrimination and stereotyping based on perceived socio-economic distinctions.

Brooke rehearses with other actors on a set.Kiener and her students also produced What's in a Meal?, about local and national food sustainability, which they performed at Spokane's Campbell House in partnership with the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. This spring, students are writing short plays in collaboration with high-school students from The Community School, which they will showcase in May.

"Our students get the best of both worlds: traditional training in theatre and an opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life in the act of making plays together," Kiener says. "Students learn that theatre can be a vital tool to engage a community and examine ourselves and societal issues in a new way."