Professor pens book on activist theater

WARREN – An area professor is getting the word out that those suffering from diversity and discrimination issues don’t have to be silent.

To that end, Kent State University at Trumbull professor Daniel-Raymond Nadon co-wrote a book about Fringe Benefits, a theater company that promotes dialogue in communities that are having diversity-based issues.

“The idea was to get the youth off the streets and into playlists,” he said.

Titled “Staging Social Justice: Collaborating to Create Activist Theatre,” the book chronicles the experiences of those involved in Fringe Benefits as well as provides instruction for those in various professions to utilize its methods.

Nadon collaborated with Fringe Benefits founder and artistic director Norma Bowles on the project after spending a sabbatical in Los Angeles with the group.

“Bowles decided we needed to help kids who were younger, from a variety of races, backgrounds and cultures. I spent a semester with her learning everything I could learn,” he said.

The theater group often travels to communities that are struggling from a variety of issues and even helps formerly incarcerated women re-enter the workplace. The plays become a creative outlet for the participants as well as a means of speaking out against the issues that oppress them.

“It’s about giving everyone a voice,” Nadon said.

In 2007, Bowles visited Kent State University shortly after a hate crime had occurred and helped to create a play that dealt with homophobia on campus. Nadon said the venture was a success.

“At that point, we sat down and talked. I said, ‘Geez, someone needs to sit down and write a book about this. After that, we just set about doing it,'” he said.

The book contains essay submissions from numerous Fringe Benefits participants as well as chapters written by Nadon and Bowles.

“People who are teaching such courses will be able to use it as a text or a reference. (It’s also) for people who are activists in the field who want to use theater to give voices to those who feel voiceless or disenfranchised or discriminated against,” Nadon said.

“Activists, sociologists, psychologists, political and social change activists can all benefit by having this how-to manual.”

Nadon said it is his hope that people venturing into the territory of social injustice will find the text useful.

“You do make a big difference in the lives of those who feel disenfranchised. If you are able to motivate them to speak up for themselves and reach out in life, then that’s great,” he said.