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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Devising the Story: Transforming Personal Narrative through Play

Ellen W. Kaplan.

After a year of working on intercultural theatre in Israel during the Intifada, and some twenty years making theatre with special needs and incarcerated populations, I have come to find that theatre is a powerful response to personal trauma and social psychosis. This paper discusses the work of constructing and restructuring trauma (through fiction and performance), of witnessing and personal testimony, and the means by which this can become an effective tool of social transformation.

I discuss my own creative work in writing and performance, and offer an in depth look at the process of making theatre in zones of conflict. Work between Arab and Jewish teens throughout Israel is a paradigm for exchange, even in this most painful time. In addition, I examine methods and processes, based on my own work with teens and community-based actors in projects in North Carolina, New England, and reflect on the ethical issues involved. Examples of similar work in South Africa highlight the need for both utopian and grounded approaches.


Ellen W. Kaplan  (United States)
Associate Professor
Theatre Department
Smith College

Playwright, actor, director, and theatre educator. Performs & directs internationally, recipient of a Fulbright grant to Costa Rica, presently a Fulbright Senior Scholar. She produced two video documentaries most recently on Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe, and an interactive CD-ROM on performing works of Juan Rulfo. Also active for 20 years in theatre outreach, working in prisons and with disadvantaged youth. In Israel this year, she wrote and directed several new plays & worked with inter-cultural (Arab and Jewish) theatre groups across the country.

  • Personal Narrative, Community-Based Theatre, Witness and Testimony

(30 min Conference Paper, English)