Failure is definitely an option and—along with adventures, daily rituals, and games—plays an important role in developing creative practice through the Theatre at Work class offered under the umbrella of Suffolk’s Creativity and Innovation requirement.

Theatre at Work engages students in activities that encourage self-expression and open-mindedness “in a safe, non-judgmental” environment.

Experimenting with games and theatre activities helps students from various fields of study gain a level of ease that leads to a sense of comfort in class discussion, according to two students who presented about the class this past fall at the National Collegiate Honors Council annual conference in Seattle.

Keen to get to class

“Waking up in the morning it was exciting knowing you were going to this class,” said Laurel Gozzo, Class of 2019, a public relations major with minors in theater and arts administration. “It was different from the typical … course that meets in a classroom, and that created a lot of interest. It was the first class I ever had that wasn’t at a desk.”

“The course is an incredible opportunity for students to engage in something outside of the traditional learning environment,” said Professor Elizabeth Robinson, director of the Education Studies program, who co-taught the course with Professor Marilyn Plotkins, chair of the Theatre Department, last spring.

Fearless failure

An array of Creativity and Innovation courses is offered to first-year students as part of the College of Arts & Sciences and Sawyer Business School shared general education curriculum. These courses are aimed at instilling flexibility in thinking so that students will explore new ideas without fearing failure

Allison Blackburn and Laurel Gozzo present at Seattle conference“Learning about failure in this class helped students realize that failure is a part of life,” wrote Gozzo and Allison Blackburn, Class of 2019, in materials they handed out at the Seattle conference. “By openly discussing it and even occasionally promoting it, students felt comfortable admitting failure and recognized that it leads to something greater. This class emphasizes the ‘if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again’ motto that many successful people live by.”

They also cited “unconventional” homework assignments, such as a requirement that they adopt a longhand writing or physical activity ritual, keep a list of things that “bug” them, or embark on an adventure and keep a comprehensive diary about it.

A community of trust

Creativity and Innovation classes are available to all students, but last spring Theatre at Work was offered specifically as an honors class.

Gearing the course to honors students was a revelation, said Plotkins. Several Theatre majors in the class were already acquainted with some of the activities used in class, and, because honors students at Suffolk are already a part of a community, “trust emerged quickly and organically in the group.”

“It was especially nice to see honors students in a different light—their movements and expressions, using their whole being—not just their minds—in a different way,” said Robinson.

“In the first few weeks we teach a series of simple theater games to help students feel they can try things without feeling foolish,” said Plotkins. “Slowly they begin to think about issues that are important to them. After several weeks we create improvisational scenes related to these issues. Before long, students are regularly acting out scenes that generate a dialogue about issues that are important to them, such as bullying, sexual discrimination, immigration, homelessness and substance abuse.”

Exploring social issues

Blackburn, who is pursuing a double major in sociology and theatre, said the class was intriguingly atypical.

“It was more about getting our thoughts out in class and discussing them. Throughout the semester we had to think about bigger issues,” said Blackburn, who, with Gozzo, was part of a three-person team that did a final project on substance abuse and its impacts.

Plotkins was particularly impressed with how “students cared about social issues and were brave enough to explore their belief systems and values collaboratively and in authentic ways. They listened to and learned from each other. It was marvelous to behold.”

Over the past two years, the course partnered with College Bound Dorchester—a non-profit offering a second chance to students who have dropped out before completing high school.

“We all enjoyed it,” said Blackburn. “It was really interesting to see how you could impress the kids through theater. The students realized that theater could be fun.”

Caption: Allison Blackburn and Laurel Gozzo present at Seattle conference.