2018 AATE National Conference
August 1-5, 2018

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THINK TANK: Exploring Intersections Between Theatre Education and Spirituality


Guthrie Theatre Education Wing
818 S 2nd St,
Minneapolis, MN 55415



Drama begs the question “Why am I here?” and adolescents in particular ponder this question as they strive to make sense of their world and make decisions pertaining to their futures. Recent studies indicate that aspects of spiritual experience that are a frequent part of theatre practice with youth (for example, being seen and heard by peers in the safety of small groups) can have a profound positive affect on the emotional, physical, and psychological well-being of young people. Theatre work encourages students to look within themselves as they ponder this question, even as they collaborate with others to create a production.

Theatre students explore plays’ characters, discuss their conflicts and work with peers to bring them to life in rehearsal and performance. Throughout this process, students tap their emotional intelligence by learning to cultivate compassion, sustain their attention by truly listening, and communicate personal points of view. Furthermore, quality theatre practice pushes actors and production crew members to concentrate on breath, muscle-action, thought, vision, listening, and focus. Attention to these elements contribute to a sharpened mindfulness that helps students reflect on their inner selves and strengthen their overall health and well-being.

This facet of spirituality might be called intentional wakefulness. An inherent educational component of theatre experience, it is a kind of spirituality comprised in part of mindfulness, ritual, and best practice. Yet theoretical investigation of its significance and contributions to young people’s overall well-being is peripheral and lacking in substantial academic definition. Throughout the pre-conference, neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Michael Johnson (he was a special guest at the 2016 AATE conference in Milwaukee) will share brain theory research and offer insights as participants analyze lessons, scripts and other aspects of theatre practice that relax the brain and lead to perceived health benefits for youth. Participants in the pre-conference THINK TANK will identify and examine spiritual qualities and dimensions of theatre education. They will a) explore benefits to honoring, b) consider strategies for augmenting, and c) address challenges to heightening the profile of, the spiritual in our work.


Dr. Jo Beth Gonzalez holds a B.S. in Education and Ph.D in Theatre from Bowling Green State University, and an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Minnesota. A thirty-year veteran of secondary theatre education, she teaches theatre for grades 8 through 12 at Bowling Green High School, (OH). Gonzalez is the author of Temporary Stages: Departing From Tradition in High School Theatre Education (Heinemann 2006) and Temporary Stages II: Critically Oriented Drama Education (Intellect 2013). Gonzalez is a member of the College Board’s committee for 6 – 12 Curriculum Frameworks for Arts Education, serves on the board of the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America, and is a former president of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. She is the recipient of the Bowling Green State University 2015-2016 Educator of the Year Award, Educational Theatre Association’s 2015 Ohio Theatre Educator of the Year, and the 2002 Wilson National Mentor’s Award to a High School Drama Teacher from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. She is a member of the 2017-2018 cohort of the U.S. State Department’s “Teachers for Global Classrooms” program.

Challenging Islamophobia through Theatre Arts 


Hyatt Regency Minneapolis
1300 Nicollet Mall,
Minneapolis, MN 55403



Experience new curriculum that reflects the resiliency of our Muslim community, created by CTC’s Neighborhood Bridges program. Celebrating its 20th year, Bridges Program is recognized as a national model for its use of theatre, storytelling, and creative writing to empower students to be the narrators of their own lives. Every year, hundreds of Bridges participants examine stories through critical literacy, practicing agency by transforming narratives to address social injustices.

During the last 12 months, Bridges staff have been creating new curriculum (stories and strategies) that will center Muslim voices to foster a better cultural understanding between Muslim and non- Muslim students. This curriculum responds to the confluence of two factors: the influx of Somali American students in Bridges classrooms and the fear and misunderstanding of Muslims in the Twin Cities and beyond.

The session participants will experience our learning process, new curriculum (hear new stories, acting games, writing games and discussions strategies), stories depicting how the new strategies have played out thus far in classrooms, as well as how Islamophobia is impacting our communities. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) will share preliminary findings on our curriculum’s impact on students and teachers. The participants will also have an opportunity discuss how to implement this curriculum and strategies in their communities.


  • Children’s Theatre Company Neighborhood Bridges Staff
    • Maria Asp, Neighborhood Bridges Program Director
    • Kiyoko Motoyama Sims, Director of Community Engagement
    • Tessa Flynn Henderson, Community Engagement Manager
    • Laura Mann Hill, Early Learner Education Manager
    • Ladan Siraji, Neighborhood Bridges Teaching Apprentice
  • Romina Madrid Miranda, Project Evaluator Coordinator, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota

2018 Partners & Sponsors 



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