Research and Development is a core part of Seema’s arts practice. She enjoys investigating and developing processes, methods and products that have the potential to improve the theater field and solve for pattern.
Current: Experiments in Isolated Theater – or Set Model Theater
R&D Collaborators: Scenic Designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, Costume Designer Ivania Stack, Projection Designer Shawn Duan, Lighting Designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Sound Designer Andre Pluess
Research question: How do stage directors and theater artists, who make art on a stage, make theater on this new stage – our devices –and in isolation - while continuing to embrace the artistry of theatricality?
Status: Early stages. Launched April 15, 2020 in response to the pandemic.
Previous R&D Projects
Consensus Organizing for Theater
Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO) is an artistic methodology through which a theater builds stake in multiple pockets of communities and those communities build stake back in the theater by surfacing and organizing around mutual self-interest.
Green Theater Choices Toolkit
R&D Collaborators: 2008 MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think it, Do it Grant; Brown and Wilmanns Environmental Consulting; Scenic Designer David F. Weiner, Costume Designer Jeannie Galioto, Lighting Designer Jason Bieber, Sound Designer Paul Peterson
Research Question: Theater, as it is traditionally practiced, can be damaging to the environment. From the woods, paints, dyes, and energy used to the seasonal nature of theater, our industry is consistently creating toxic waste at a high rate with each production. How can we create theater that minimizes the negative impact on the very communities we are serving?
Result: The Green Theater Choices Toolkit was completed in December 2009 and shared freely with the world. Requests from nearly 100 theaters and universities came from Broadway to BBC, Australia, Canada, Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Theater on the green: Staging eco-minded productions in SD
The Baltimore Sun: Mo`olelo earns national theater honor
The Green Theater Choices Toolkit is highlighted in Ellen E. Jones’ book A Practical Guide to Greener Theatre
Neuroscience of Acting
R&D Collaborators: Lisa T. Eyler, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego; Raeanne C. Moore, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego; Elizabeth Strauss, M.A., California School of Professional Psychiatry, Alliant International University; Sheena I. Dev, M.S., Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego; Steven M. Parish, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego
Research Question: Does theater build empathy?
Background: Dr. Lisa T. Eyler, came across Seema’s “provocateur” speech for the 2014 LA Stage Day hosted by the LA Stage Alliance, “Neuroscience, Empathy and the Biology of Acting.” Dr. Eyler’s research was focused on older adults. Together, they developed the following research project.
Objective: Develop a novel theatre-based intervention and test its feasibility, tolerability, and preliminary efficacy for improving empathy/compassion and well-being among older adults.
Method: Thirteen older adults were randomized to a 6-week Drama Workshop (DW) program or time-equivalent Backstage Pass (BP) control condition. Pre- and post-treatment measures included empathy, compassion, and mood scales. Additional post-treatment measures included self-rated change in empathy/compassion, confidence, and affect. Participants also rated their mood/affect after each session.
Results: The program was successfully completed and well-liked. No pre-to-post-treatment changes in empathy/compassion or mood symptoms were found in either group. Compared to BP, DW weekly ratings indicated higher levels of anxiety and lower happiness; however, the DW program had higher self-ratings of positive change in self-esteem, confidence, and happiness post-treatment.
Discussion: While the DW may not promote empathy/compassion and was personally challenging during the program, engagement in dramatic exercises and rehearsing and performing a dramatic piece was seen by participants as a positive growth experience, as indicated by the post-treatment ratings of enhanced self-esteem, confidence and happiness. Thus, such a program might be useful for counteracting some of the potential negative aspects of aging, including reduced self-efficacy due to physical limitations and negative affect due to losses.