In Spring 2018 Profs. Daniel Brumberg and Derek Goldman began exploring avenues for collaboration between their respective Georgetown University (GU) programs. The Director of Democracy and Governance Studies, Brumberg wanted to expand his MA program to include a new project on the challenge of polarization in the US. Goldman, who co-founded and directs GU’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics and is Chair of the Department of Performing Arts, has extensive experience in both the US and abroad using performance to foster communication, understanding, and empathy across cultural, political, and social boundaries. Brumberg proposed adapting the tools of theater and performance to address the problem of polarization on the American college campus. In response, Goldman sketched out a concept for an experientially based project that would give students from very different social, religious, and political backgrounds a safe space to build new avenues of understanding. Thus, the first steps in the creation of In Your Shoes were taken.
In Summer 2018, Brumberg and Goldman visited Patrick Henry College (PHC). Founded in 1998, the College’s emphasis on scholarship, religious values, and community echoed many GU traditions. But PHC’s Protestant-Christian orientation also contrasted with GU’s more liberal ecumenicalism, thus echoing wider social, religious, and ideological divisions in American society. These convergences and contrasts boded well for collaboration. Prospects for partnership grew when PHC Professor Cory Grewell - a scholar of literature and faculty mentor to PHC’s theater club – came on board. The faculty team began to recruit an inaugural group of students from each campus.
Over the course of the full 2018-2019 school year, the group met regularly, each group making the 50-mile drive to the other campus. Using the “Performing One Another” methodology developed over many years by Goldman and The Lab in a wide range of global contexts, the ensemble’s work pivoted around using prompts such as "home" and "belief" to engage in paired discussions that are recorded and transcribed with great precision. Each student then reads a section of their counterpart’s narrative. Enhanced by group call-and-response exercises and other performance workshops and techniques, the students probed complex issues including loneliness and belonging, gender and sexuality, race, faith and belief, grief, fear, and loss. Watching their colleagues tell their own stories and thus “stepping into their shoes,” they embarked on journeys of self and collective discovery. Sections of their scripts were woven together and then presented in late April 2019 before audiences on both campuses. These presentations - and the “talk back” sessions that followed them - were revelatory for both the performers and audience. While the work did not signal some obvious or simple common ground, these public events highlighted pathways for understanding, respect, and empathy despite - or perhaps because of - the differences that these courageous students brought to this process.
In Summer 2019, the project received a grant from GU's “Transforming the Core Curriculum Initiative.” With additional support from the GU’s Government Department and the Baker Trust for Leadership, the project created a Dialogue and Difference: Performing One Another (TPST 415/GovX424), a five-credit course launched in Spring 2020. PHC and GU once again joined forces, but this time with ten students from GU and eight from PHC. The mentor team was also expanded to include The Lab's Inclusive Pedagogy Specialist, Ijeoma Njaka, as well as Rabbi Rachel Gartner.
With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020, and both campuses moving to virtual instruction, the project has adapted and continued to move forward very actively in an online format, with students joining from their homes as far away as Sri Lanka. While nothing can fully replace the experience of being physically together, this methodology does lend itself exceptionally well to this new social-distancing reality.
The “Performing One Another” model has been featured in keynote workshops with the Doris Duke Foundation, the Association of American Arts Presenters, the International Theatre Institute, the Network of Higher Education in Performing Arts, and the Theatre Communications Group, as well as in Bangladesh, China, Russia, and in a wide range of other contexts. We look forward to expanding and scaling this work up both within GU’s Core Curriculum and in a range of other communities.