Theater and Self: Putting Self-Concept Into Play

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ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: THEATER AND SELF: PUTTING SELF-CONCEPT INTO PLAY Degree Candidate: Cynthia Celaine Yeager Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, 2004 Directed By: Professor Patricia Alexander Department of Human Development The current study investigated the nature of the experience of participation in theater as it related to the self-concept of college students. The context for the study was the theater department of a comprehensive university emphasizing undergraduate education. The university offers a major and a minor in theater. The study used a qualitative, interpretive, case-study methodology, with analysis influenced by traditions of ethnography and phenomenology. Four participants were interviewed in order to ascertain their perspectives regarding the aspects of theater engagement that were perceived as meaningful. The resulting data were supplemented by multiple observations of the participants embedded in theater activities in order to garner relevant information regarding contextual features of significance. Data analysis commenced via analytic induction and the use of a constant-comparative approach. Accordingly, key ideas emerged that were then compared in a search for patterns of similarities and differences. Primary themes that emerged as significant across cases included the nature of motivation influencing theater engagement, the meaning ascribed to the social context, and the perspectives of participants regarding the influence of theater on self-concept. In addition, significant idiosyncratic sub-themes were identified respective to individual cases. Thus, it emerged that one participant experienced exclusion based on racial inequity within the department. Another participant expounded on the meaning attributed to costume and makeup in the context of performance in theater. Findings support the notion that aspects of theater engagement support identity formation and self-development. Specifically, it was noted that the social context of the theater department was viewed as cohesive and supportive, thereby facilitating feelings of belongingness and connectedness. Additionally, it was revealed that elements of play production and the academic coursework required in the major necessitate a level of self-reflection that can lead to insight and enhanced self-concept. Finally, existing research regarding the positive influence of theater on self-concept was supported.