Stephen Owen – Using Improvisational Theatre for Social Change

What a joy to get to know Stephen Owen! We met at the beginning of the pandemic and were in Spolin classes with Gary Schwartz and Aretha Sills. I had no idea how much Steve had immersed himself in Improvisational Theatre this past year, even taking the Teacher Training with Aretha Sills! We also discovered that we were both fans of Boal’s work.
Although Stephen had some experience in drama in high school, he chose a path leading to a Ph.D. in political science with a specialty in criminal justice. He teaches criminal justice at Radford University, so his students are college students who plan to enter criminal justice professions, including law enforcement.  The unique classes he developed focus on building observation, communication, and empathy in the context of police-community relations.

For the first nine weeks (of a 14-week semester), his students play theater games. He runs it as an improv workshop, with minimal lecture and lots of game-playing.  Students journal about their experiences and connect the games they play to some homework games he assigns and to readings about policing.  In the last part of the semester, they follow Boal’s model of legislative theater to develop a forum theater production about a police-community relations issue. Steve taught this for the first time this past fall, in an online format. He’s teaching it again in the upcoming fall, in a face-to-face format.  The students responded really well to it, and it was a great experience. I know you’ll appreciate how Steve is using improv to create social change.

You might want to listen to my fascinating discussions with other improv teachers and innovators including Colin Mochrie and Anne Beatts
*Improv Interviews podcast‘ is introduced by Susan L. Parker of

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