The Interactive Theatre Troupe was founded by Theatre professors Suzanne Burgoyne and Clyde Ruffin in 2003, when MU joined a “cluster” on the Scholarship of Multicultural Teaching and Learning, as part of a multi-campus initiative sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Because of positive campus reaction to its performances on diversity, interactive theatre became an integral component of Mizzou’s interdisciplinary Ford Foundation “Difficult Dialogues” program (2006-2010). One of 27 out of 675 applicants nationwide to receive the Ford Foundation “Difficult Dialogues” grant in 2006, and had its grant renewed in 2008. During the four years of the grant, MU ITT created 4 new scripts, trained 40+ student actors, and gave an average of 25 performances/year.
Since the end of the Ford grant in 2010, The University of Missouri’s Chief Diversity Officer has provided annual ongoing funding for the Difficult Dialogues ITT, was provided by The University of Missouri’s Chief Diversity Officer, and now by the Division of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity. This funding supports some 16 performances/year requested by faculty for their classes, as well as sessions for such venues as MU’s chapter of the NAACP, Black History Month, the Diversity Summit, MU’S $1 million NSF GK-12 “Show Me Nature” grant program, etc.
ITT also played a key role in MU’s National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, dealing with gender issues in the STEM fields (2007-2010). During the three years of the grant, ITT created 2 new scripts, trained a dozen adult actors, and gave 30 performances.
In 2011, at the request of the facilitators for Mizzou Advantage Education and Food for the Future initiatives, ITT worked with a faculty member from Journalism and an Undergraduate Research Team during 2011/2012 to create a piece on media’s impact on body image and nutritional choices.
Breast Cancer Project
In 2011, our interdisciplinary team received a $67,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Mid-Missouri to develop a pilot project: interactive theatre dealing with doctor-patient communication about breast cancer. Dr. Heather Carver, Associate Professor of Theatre and a breast cancer survivor, conducted ethnographic research with focus groups and wrote 3 short scripts. Dr. Burgoyne workshopped the scripts with actors. Dr. James Campbell, Professor of Family and Community Medicine, served as PI on the grant and medical consultant. During 2011/2012, ITT gave 8 performances for over 400 participants, including students in medicine, nursing, and social work, as well as patient survivors and practicing health professionals.
As a result of the pilot, the network expanded to include Professor Jane Armer, Director of Nursing Research at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and a nationally-respected researcher of breast cancer and lymphedema. One of her advisees, Pam Ostby, a doctoral student in Nursing, wrote her dissertation on the use of interactive theatre for patients. In fall 2012, the project and its expanded network of researchers received a $25,000 grant from Mizzou Advantage.
In 2015, the Interactive Theatre Troupe became part of the MU Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research. And in 2016/2017 the Sinclair School of Nursing funded the development of two scripts on Health Equity.
The Current Moment
To date, Mizzou ITT has toured performances to more than fifteen conferences and universities, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the University of Kansas, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Dayton. Dr. Burgoyne has also directed Mizzou ITT scripts at Wake Forest University and The University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Currently, Mizzou ITT’s repertoire includes performances on diversity issues (Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues grant); gender bias in STEM fields (NSF ADVANCE grant); improving communication between health care professionals and breast cancer patients (Mid-Missouri Susan G. Komen and Mizzou Advantage grants); and Body image, media, and nutrition (Mizzou Advantage grant).