Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Darlene Farabee


This dissertation examines the intersection of metatheatre and theatre for social change with a focus on how works of metatheatre, when combined with subject matter that illuminates social issues, systemically non-dominant characters, or de-centered stories, create opportunities for audiences to practice participation and empathetic care that has the power to translate to social action. While existing scholarship on theatre for social change often relies on one-off, site-specific, or performance art events as key to understanding socially focused theater, this dissertation considers alternative approaches to thinking and learning about theatre for social change that expand definitions of theatre for social change and allow for first-hand engagement, agency, and ownership among students, educators, and theater practitioners. With a more expansive approach in mind, this project centers on engaged reading practices and accessible play texts that demonstrate playwrights’ frequent and politically purposeful use of metatheatre in service of social justice aims. To illustrate how scripted drama can offer an accessible gateway into the study of theatre for social change, this dissertation attends to the legacies of twentieth century theater theorists significant to both socially conscious theater and metatheatre, Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal, and connects their theories to recent plays that use metatheatrical dramaturgy to examine social justice issues: American Moor (2020) by Keith Hamilton Cobb, John (2016) by Annie Baker, What the Constitution Means to Me (2020) by Heidi Schreck, The Writer (2018) by Ella Hickson, Mr. Burns: a post-electric play (2014) by Anne Washburn, The Nether (2014) by Jennifer Haley, Draw the Circle (2018) by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, I Am My Own Wife (2004) by Doug Wright, and Every Brilliant Thing (2015) by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe. Reading these plays as examples of theatre for social change shows the impact metatheatrical dramaturgy can have on conversations about complex social issues and reveals how performance texts hold potential to serve as rich pedagogical tools for learning about and shaping a more just world.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Theatre and Performance Studies


Boal, Brecht, metatheatre, theatre for social change

Number of Pages



University of South Dakota

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