Armed with scholarship and discussion, but absolutely zero experience in Community-Based Performance, two colleagues and I were given the task to make a three minute video that would adequately document the engagement of six young people from the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Mesa, AZ with the Arizona Museum of Natural History.  The video was our final project in Professor Stephani Etheridge Woodson’s THE 514: Projects in Community Based Drama and Theatre, a core course in the MFA and PhD programs in Theatre for Youth at Arizona State University.  In so doing, we were required to create a video that exemplified community based performance as discussed by Jan Cohen-Cruz in her books Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States and Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response.  According to Cohen-Cruz, “Community-based performance is thus a local act in two senses: a social doing in one’s particular corner of the world and an artistic framing of that doing for others to appreciate” (Local Acts 13).  Therefore, our video needed to depict these six young people doing (or engaging with) the Arizona Museum of Natural History at the same time they were framing (or performing) that live interaction for those who would eventually view the video as a geocaching reward permanently installed at the museum.[1]  As a doctoral student in theatre, I philosophically believed in this project as a performance oriented community based project; however, the task of making the video scared me to death.  I was most worried that we adults would wrest creative control away for the young people in the name of a “great product.”  I remember mulling this project over for several weeks without ever coming to a solution.  Eventually, I called a group meeting with my group members Megan Hartman and Megan Flod Johnson for the next day to discuss our dilemma.

At that meeting I walked in and said, “Well, I have an idea.  I don’t know if you are going to like it, but . . . what about a performance based scavenger hunt?  We put the kids in groups of say three or four, with two graduate student facilitators, and ask the kids to perform and video-record their interactions with their favorite parts of the museum.  I already have a list of what they enjoyed most about the museum because I was curious and basically just asked them.”  Megan and Megan asked a couple small questions, and then there was a bit of a pause.  Megan Flod Johnson said, “Hey, we could make each item be a riddle.”  Megan Hartman said, “Yeah, and they could rhyme!”  At that moment it was as if light bulbs had turned on simultaneously above us.  Our eyes were wide with excitement, as we did some basic planning.  Over the next hour we had outlined our community-based performance scavenger hunt that the adolescents of the Boys and Girls Club would organically develop, perform, and film at the Arizona Museum of Natural History (please see Figure 1).

The Scavenger Hunt fulfilled the course expectations quite nicely.  The reason is because a scavenger hunt relies upon the “Youth Development Model” of engagement Dr. Woodson wisely insisted we use on this project.  It does not utilize the “Educative Model” of engagement commonly practiced in our schools today.  In her article “Models for Working with Youth in Community Arts,” Stephani Etheridge Woodson draws the distinction between the “Educative Model” and the “Youth Development Model.”  She states:

Unlike an educative model with its hierarchical control structures, a youth development    model does not lend itself to set power relationships. While an expert-novice relationship can be found within youth development models, it is not the primerelationship. Control, then, is also less hierarchical within a youth development model. Generally adults and young people share power…This lateral control structure highlights the importance of deliberative dialogue techniques, shared leadership approaches and skills in facilitation (8).

This sounded like the approach we wanted to take with the adolescents from the Boys and Girls Club.  This would be a better way to see how they interact with the Arizona Museum of Natural History.  We wanted to share power with them so as to truly understand them and follow their doing and framing.  We did not want to force our doing and framing upon them.  With this in mind, I made a list of these “Youth Development Model” characteristics and added the following from the same article as I read:

In most cases, young people connect because they wish to engage, not because they are compelled…a skilled community artist must have the ability to create safe environments, build trust and foster opportunities for authentic communication…understand how to perform deep listening and to provide appropriate feedback, paying attention for opportunities to raise young people’s awareness of choice/consequence structures.  Perhaps most important, resident artists must be able to skillfully and   ethically build relationships with and among young people…relationships here depend on honesty and mutual respect…(8)

I was certain this was how we should approach our video project at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, so for a couple weeks I carried this list in my mind.  I went to workshops with the adolescents at the Boys and Girls Club, I chatted with them when I could, I visited the two other sites, and I even watched several sample videos online.  The scavenger hunt idea passed all the tests.  It was going to be our group project.

On the day we went to film at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, we did not tell the kids what was going to take place.  When everyone who wanted to go got to the museum we randomly created two groups of three adolescents each, told them we were holding something like a scavenger hunt, and gave the groups an hour in the museum to complete seven activities.  We asked three graduate students to accompany the two groups of three adolescents just to offer support, answer questions, and help them with whatever was needed.  We told the graduate students they could film using their own cameras, too, but it was not necessary.  We truly wanted the kids to do the creating and the filming, so each group was given an IPad with camera and each adolescent got a sheet of paper describing the seven activities that made up the scavenger hunt.  We felt it unfair just to let them run through the museum with a camera because that would not show true interaction with the space, so we were perfectly fine with creating a loose structure to each activity.  In addition, we did not want to give highly detailed directions so as to take the creativity away from the adolescents.  We also asked the graduate students to be as “hands off” as possible because we wanted the entire experience to come organically from what the kids had already told me was important to them.  Essentially, we wanted the adolescents to make creative choices as they interacted with what they were drawn to in the museum.  Their filming of those interactions actually added another level of community-based performance to their pieces.  We also said there would be prizes given at the end, but they were just small items meant to restore their energy after spending time in the museum – yes, candy.

When we said the groups could begin, they took off like rockets!  Papers went flying, purses were dropped, somebody tripped, and we had to softly scream, “Slow down!”  I was personally shocked by their reaction.  They knew we were not giving them cash or prizes of any significance because I showed them the small bag that held the small amount of candy they would receive.  Yet, they were excited – really excited.  I believe there were two major reasons for this: the enjoyment of the activity itself and the level of autonomy given to the groups.  Here are the two lists of activities given to the two groups [see figure 1 and 2]:



Figure 1


Figure 2


I think it is important to note that we asked both groups to start at number 1 because we wanted the groups to start in different parts of the museum.  Since we had duplicated a couple stops on the hunt, we did not want a specific exhibit to be overrun by a mass of people.  Regardless, the activities were fun and they were grounded in what the kids themselves liked most about the museum.  Megan Hartman, Megan Flod Johnson, and I wanted each activity to be enjoyable so we created the activities with those specific adolescents in mind.  We used our theatrical background to dramatize specific aspects of the museum that they had already identified as being of interest to them.  But, beyond being fun, the activities engaged the adolescents in an interaction with a major cultural landmark in their hometown of Mesa, AZ; and the activities were just as much about process as they were about product.

We also expected the students to come up with interesting film clips.  This scavenger hunt became their process and their product.  I watched them take great care filming one another because they took ownership of what was taking place.  We were in their hometown.  It was their museum, they were doing the filming, they were doing the acting, and they were adolescents being trusted to work through a respectful process to a solid product.

The only thing we asked the graduate students to film was the last few questions on our activity sheet.  That is because we wanted to have direct to the camera feedback from each of the kids.  So, they were asked a.) Why should young people care about the Arizona Museum of Natural History?  b.) Why should the people of Mesa care about the Arizona Museum of Natural History?  c.) Should people visit the museum?  Why?  We actually added these questions to create a cap for the activity.  There had to be some kind of processing at the end, so we opted to have the interviews.  When we viewed all the footage we were pleased beyond our wildest imaginations.  The scavenger hunt idea worked incredibly well, and resulted in the kids creating beautifully engaged local doing and framing.  Their work actually was community based performance called Geocaching Stories: Locative Digital Storytelling.

I think the concept of the scavenger hunt is something all community based artists who work with youth should remember.  There is a great reason why.  You see, I believe we ourselves are more often than not wonderful artists in a vast landscape of media.  As teaching artists, it is also easy for us to walk into a classroom or community center and lead warm-up activities and/or theatre games.  In addition, we do a great job developing impressive projects that involve things like community, place, youth, the future, arts venues, and more.  Our problems, however, lie between the introductions and the final product.  For me, as a teaching artist in theatre, I call this “The Gap.”  “The Gap” exists when a teaching artist says: “Why can’t I see on stage what I see in the classroom?”  This as a significant problem in much theatre work with youth.  Therefore, it seems to me that we need to build and document more bridge activities like the scavenger hunt.  Bridge activities help us step over “The Gap” and achieve.

A scavenger hunt allows for just enough planning and just enough improvisation.  It provides just enough control and just enough uncertainty.  It includes just enough adult and just enough youth.  It is overflowing with creative possibilities and can be morphed and modulated to fit the needs of any teaching artist.  In our case, it was the perfect bridge that took us through the Youth Development Model we felt so strongly about using to the creation of Geocaching Stories: Locative Digital Storytelling.


[1] “Geocaching is an outdoor sporting activity using GPS or mobile device technologies to hide and seek hidden containers.  Acknowledging that youth produce culture and community assets, story geocaching is a fresh way to engage an intergenerational public with art” (Woodson).

Troy Dobosiewicz is a PhD candidate in Theatre at Arizona State University.  He has been an adjunct instructor of Theatre at the college level for nine years and a high school theatre director for thirteen years.  Troy earned his MA in Theatre from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his BA in Communication from the University of Dayton.  His current research interests include theatre education and acting theory.

Works Cited

Arizona Museum of Natural History.  The Official Website of the Arizona Museum of Natural History.  City of Mesa, AZ.  2012. .  Web.

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response.  New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Print.

Woodson, Stephani Etheridge. “Models for Working with Youth in Community Arts.”  The Community Arts Network. 1999-2009.  <                      6203537/ ork.php>.  Web.

Woodson, Stephani Etheridge. “THP 514: Projects in Community-Based (Drama) Theatre.” Course Syllabus. Arizona State University, 2012. Print.

Share this post: