UNI SAVE (Students Against a Violent Environment) Forum Actors are peer theatre students who present interactive workshops to raise awareness about gender based violence and sexual intimacy. Their goal is to challenge audiences to think seriously about the choices they make in their intimate relationships. Established in 2001, SAVE Forum Actors were originally funded as part of a $500,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant awarded to the University of Northern Iowa's Women's Studies program to prevent gender violence on campus.
The SAVE Forum Actors, directed by Karen Mitchell and Amandajean Freking Nolte, have been keynote performers for organizations such as the American Men's Studies Association and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault; presenters at conferences such as Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed and the Iowa Consumer Science Educators Association; and trainers at three of the Department of Justice Training and Technical Institutes on Judicial Affairs. They also have presented for groups in Nebraska, North Carolina, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Minnesota, and Kansas. Workshops are custom-made for various audiences in order to address issues that are directly connected to their lives. On UNI's campus, the group performs for various audiences, including first year students, athletes, fraternities and sororities, men's groups, co-curricular organizations, and students in a variety of liberal arts classes at UNI.
SAVE presentations are interactive scenes created for and with the audience. The session begins with the actors posing a problem through a scenario that typically escalates to a moment of impending violence. Audience members do not simply watch the scene passively as they would a scripted play; instead, they participate as script writers, directors and/or actors. They suggest how a plot could alternatively develop, direct the actors on how to behave in order to prevent the violence, or replace actors in the scene in order to change the outcome. With these suggestions, the audience and actors then improvise the new scenario. In other words, the audience creates the change in the action that they want to see.
This type of performance is called "Forum Theatre," developed in the 1960s by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal. Boal believed that theatre could serve as a forum for teaching people the strategies they needed to change their world. The goal of forum theatre is to make people more aware of solutions to problems that they may have not considered previously. Audience members are encouraged to follow their intuition and trust their life experience when searching for solutions. Forum Theatre is not about finding a "perfect" solution; rather, the goal is to create a dialogue among participants that will uncover the personal and societal obstacles that prevent change.
Currently, the group is funded by the UNI Provost's office and is housed as part of the co-curricular programs in the Department of Communication Studies. For more information on SAVE, contact the director, Amandajean Nolte: firstname.lastname@example.org, or check their web site at www.uni.edu/save.
LEADERSHIP OF THE SAVE FORUM ACTORS
Karen Mitchell is a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Northern Iowa where she teaches courses in performance of literature, performance and social change, scripting and directing, critical communication pedagogy, and the performance and rhetoric of social movements. A recipient of the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence and a 2011 UNI Diversity Matters Award, she is the Artistic Director of UNI Interpreters Theatre, and the founding director of SAVE Forum Actors.
In her thirty years of teaching, eleven of which were devoted to teaching high school students, Dr. Mitchell has honed a pedagogical style that emphasizes experiential learning, creative performance work, collaborative problem solving, community building, and social justice action. Karen played a fundamental role in the first million dollar U.S. Department of Justice Flagship Grant awarded to the CVP in the creation forum theatre programs at Iowa State (The Catalyst Theatre) and the University of Iowa (I-Site Peer Theatre). "I find it especially gratifying that I have been doing this work long enough to have trained the next generation's trainers and teachers," said Mitchell. "Many of my former students have found significant ways to bring performance and social change together in the work they now do. What more could I ask?"
Amandajean Freking Nolte (M.A. University of Northern Iowa 2007) is an instructor of communication studies at the University of Northern Iowa where she teaches courses in performance studies. She is the current director of the UNI SAVE Forum Actors. She was in the audience for SAVE's very first new student orientation, and through her time at UNI as an undergraduate and graduate student, and now adjunct instructor, she has moved from being an actor, to a facilitator and now co-director of the program. Amandajean is also an Associate Producer and Production Coordinator for the UNI Interpreters Theatre. During her time at UNI, she has worked on various performances during her undergraduate and graduate careers. She also directs productions including beat. a play on words by Kelly Groves and Daddy's Little Girl, a performance art piece she wrote that examines the rhetorical and performance functions of father/daughter public virginity pledges. Amandajean has particular interest in examining new students' college experience and gender and sexuality issues surrounding adolescents and young adults.