Workplace Interactive Theatre (WIT) is a research-based theatre company that performs customized, interactive, and fun workshops for companies and organizations seeking institutional change through unconscious bias intervention and collective problem-solving. By making theatre together, we aim to “outWIT” patterns of unconscious bias, stereotyping, and microaggressions that cause friction and interfere with productivity in the workplace.
Our practice derives from two impactful theatre strategies—research-based documentary theatre and applied theatre for social change—enabling us to develop and perform unique, interactive, theatrical interventions in workplaces. Our research-based scenarios, based on anonymized and composited informational interviews, help employees to: (1) identify climate problems that reduce workplace productivity, (2) develop empathy for the behavioral patterns and systemic issues that underwrite these problems, and (3) “reality test” solutions and interventions aimed at enhancing workplace communication and collaboration through facilitated Q&A sessions, discussion, and theatrical replay where participants consider, improvise, and implement strategies for intervention.
WIT was founded in 2015 by artistic director Emily Roxworthy, a theatre professor and academic administrator at the University of California, San Diego, following a 2014-15 “tour” of all ten University of California (UC) campuses sponsored by the UC Office of the President. The project began as a way to begin deconstructing the problem of unconscious bias and problematic behavioral patterns for those in the most powerful positions of the university system to impact campus climate. The project responded, particularly, to a 2013 UC Campus Climate Survey that revealed that 25% of faculty systemwide had experienced “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile” behavior and that, while 57% of white faculty thought review processes in the UC system were fair, only 27% of African American faculty agreed. To that end, every chair and dean in the UC system participated in this tour of WIT’s original 20-minute scenario, Ready to Vote, which was based on a dozen anonymized interviews with current and former UC faculty who were women and people of color as well as secondary literature and climate survey data.
Ready to Vote staged an interactive microcosm of academic life: an ad-hoc committee meeting of faculty in a fictional UC computer science department tasked with deciding whether their junior colleague (an Asian American woman named Felicity) should be put up for tenure in the fall. This scenario was readily recognizable to faculty audiences, and the “Hot Seat” Q&A and replay sections of our workshop successfully interpolated them as experts who took on an active, participatory role by questioning the characters (and often the moderator), giving them advice, and interpreting the structural and psychological motivations behind their behavior.
Through this program we learned that human beings embrace the chance to be part of theatre reflecting their world and, specifically, that human beings in a range of institutional settings find the opportunity to be involved in the making of theatre to be an enlightening experience that allows them to speak truth to power and imagine solutions to our most intractable problems. The impact of our theatrical intervention could be seen in the 2015 post-performance surveys the president conducted at six UC campuses where we performed. All of the UC audiences either agreed or strongly agreed that the workshop allowed them to empathize with the characters’ concerns and perspectives and that the interactive theatre method was an effective tool to increase cultural awareness and understanding.
Since then, WIT has performed at university campuses throughout the State of California and is now using digital technology to develop a range of scenarios that can be performed for higher education institutions and other organizations around the world.