Date of Award
Professor Christina Johnson
Professor Stephanie Faatz-Murry
Dr. Elizabeth Kelly
I spent my twenty-second birthday driving six hours by myself through the back roads of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. I was traveling to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to interview at the University of Southern Mississippi for their MFA Theatre Directing program. As someone who loves birthdays, spending this time by myself with only my nerves to accompany me was difficult. However, it was during this trip that I stumbled across something that would change my life.
Leading up to that trip to Hattiesburg were years of theatre involvement. On a whim, in eighth grade, I auditioned for a production of White Christmas and was cast in my first show. This started a lifelong love for theatre, one that I have continued to pursue at the collegiate and professional level. During my senior year of undergrad, my university hired two new theatre professors, and I ended up working and learning a great deal from one of these professors in particular: Joe M. Hernandez. Through general conversations with him, classroom discussions, professional/work collaborations, and a handful of near-breakdowns in his office, the topic that he and I kept coming back to was connection and vulnerability with others. As someone who grew up always striving to be perfect and to present a very stable version of myself, I often struggled to let people in, see all of me, and use my voice as a human and artist. We had many difficult discussions about how this influenced my acting onstage and my relationships offstage.
As I drove down to Mississippi, I cycled through my normal mix of music and podcasts. Unable to find a TED Talk Radio Hour podcast topic I thought would be interesting, I pulled up the TED Talk website. (TED Talks focus on "ideas worth spreading.") I clicked on the video "The Power of Vulnerability" by Brene Brown, a social worker and researcher. She discussed how shame and fear cause disconnection in our lives and that a sense of worthiness is vital for living a courageous, wholehearted life. Within minutes of listening to her talk, I felt my heart and mind opening. Everything she talked about--our desire/hardwiring for connection, the struggle we have with worthiness--it all resonated with me. It was exactly what I had been struggling with, what I had been discussing with Joe over the past year. As soon as I got to my room for the night, I sent the video to Joe and ordered Brown's book Daring Greatly.
Thanks to the speedy service of ThriftBooks, I received the book within a few days and immediately started reading. The book caused great introspection, confronted me with my own struggles and walls, and equipped me with tools to dare greatly in my own life. Reading and seeing how deeply shame influences our lives, it was a quick connection for me to think of theatre. A main goal of theatre is telling stories--relating life and human experiences. It also has the ability to influence and touch. So, I got to thinking: if theatre is a reflection of life, and if shame is a fundamental human experience, how does theatre portray shame? What can we learn about the types of shame present in a society based on the theatre of that society? How can theatre be used to challenge and expose those shame ideas?
I will begin with an exploration into theatre, how it has been used throughout history, how it can be used as a social tool, and how it is reflective of human life. Then, I will look into shame and its prevalence and impact. Through research and analysis of American play scripts, I will identify examples of shame in drama. From this, I hope to gain insight into the types of shame most present in our society and consider the impact of their inclusion in the world of theatre.
Terry, Lauren Elisabeth, "Shame: Its Place in Life and American Drama" (2019). Honors Theses. 735.