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Research & Development

Research and Development is a core part of Seema’s practice. She investigates and develops processes, methods, programs and products that have the potential to improve and expand the ideas and practice of theater and serve the broader society.

Solidarity Economy Learning Circles for the Theater Community

Research Question: Can the concepts, values and tools of Social and Solidarity Economy be applied to and transform theater making?

Participants: Currently there are four Learning Circles with the following participants: John Austin, Daniel Banks, Donna Blanchard, Sean Boyd, Leila Buck, Lorene Chesley, Debbie Chinn, Roberto Di Donato, Tyler Dobrowsky, Peter Flynn, Rick Froehlich, Paul Gabbard, Shanara Gabrielle, Jamie Gahlon, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Alexandra Harbold (Andra), Janet Hayatshahi, Rebecca Hewett, Timothy Johnson, Irina Kruzhilina, Mark Lerman, Beth Lewis, Gail Lopes, Caitlin Lowans, Vijay Mathew, Kate Reynolds, Corinna Schulenburg, Greg Keng Strasser, Seema Sueko, Kristen van Ginhoven, Austin (Agustine) Ubannwa, Abigail Vega, Elena Velasco, Harry Wong.

Process: The Learning Circles launched in Summer/Fall 2022. Participants determine the materials they would like to engage with between each meeting and then gather to discuss the materials and learn from one another. The learning materials can be found here. We welcome suggestions for additional learning materials. Please contact Seema here with any questions about or suggestions for the Solidarity Economy Learning Circles for the Theater Community. 

Theater Artists Marketplace

Collaborators: Arena Stage; Artists and Artisans who have worked at Arena


Research question: In the pandemic of 2020, theater artists and audience still exist, the only thing broken is the delivery system. Can we create new delivery systems for theater?


Result: The Arena Stage Theater Artists Marketplace launched June 23, 2020 and achieved proof of concept, trailblazing a new model for regional theaters to connect art, artists and their artistry directly with the public. The Marketplace gives the public the opportunity to commission or purchase a work of art safely, with no in-person contact, from the artists and artisans who have graced Arena’s stages. The Marketplace continues to thrive. Currently, there are 35 artists offering over 100 items.

Looking for Santa’s Workshop? Try Your Local Theatre (American Theatre 11/25/20)

Arena Stage Launches Artists Marketplace (American Theatre 6/24/2020)

Artistic Director Intensive

Collaborators: Arena Stage (Molly Smith, Artistic Director); American University College of Arts and Sciences (E. Andrew Taylor, Chair of the Department of Performing Arts, and Ximena Varela, Arts Management Program Director)


Research question: While graduate and certificate programs abound for managing director and executive director positions, surprisingly, there is no existing training and support program for artistic directors of theaters. The first few years of an artistic director’s tenure can be complex, confusing, and sometimes debilitating. As a result, not only might the individual struggle, but so does their organization, their staff, their community, their audience, and the field. Can we create a first of its kind program or structure to support, advance, and connect new artistic directors?


Result: The Artistic Director Intensive was piloted in July 2019, engaging 10 artistic directors with tenures from zero to three years in their positions from across the country for three-days of an intensive, in-person gathering, followed by four online or in-person convenings. They engaged in a "Consultancy Protocol" methodology, each sharing specific dilemmas they were facing as artistic directors, responding to clarifying questions from the group, and observing a discussion of their peers engaging in the dilemma and its possible solutions. In turn, they each were part of the response group for their colleagues. Feedback from the participants in the pilot was overwhelmingly positive. When the 2020 pandemic hit, this cohort organically began meeting weekly. Though Arena Stage and American University sunset the program in July 2021, the cohort continues to meet monthly.


Theater, Empathy and Older Adults


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. 

Read the research paper here. 

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.

You may find the Green Theater Choices Toolkit here.


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 


Consensus Organizing for Theater

Collaborators: Mike Eichler


Research Question: Is it possible to adapt the Consensus Organizing Model to theater and the arts and build cross-sector communities of mutual self-interest such that both the theater and its cross-sector partners benefit? 

Find the results here.

Green Theate Choices Toolkit


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