Higher education issues to provide theme for improv group coming to SJU

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March 18, 2014

You don't get many chances to learn something from newsmakers and then laugh about it - all in the course of the same evening.

But at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 28, at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at SJU, CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger and SJU President Michael Hemesath will step front and center and join the Theater of Public Policy for a public policy forum on issues affecting higher education today.

The Theater of Public Policy is a unique improv theater company based in Minneapolis that makes debate and conversation about big issues fun and engaging.

Here's how it works: Baenninger and Hemesath will hold a conversation with the troupe regarding issues pertaining to higher education, with the actors listening to their comments onstage. The actors then dissect their comments and turn it into a long-form improv, helping the audience engage in this issue through humor.

"Humor is a useful tool to opening up and thinking about public policy issues," said Matt Lindstrom, Edward L. Henry professor of political science at CSB and SJU, and director of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at SJU, serving CSB and SJU. The McCarthy Center is partnering with Fine Arts Programming at CSB and SJU to present this performance.

Lindstrom noted the success of such humor/public policy shows as "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report." Historically, humor has been used by speakers like Mark Twain and Will Rogers to speak about public policy issues.

This is not a roast of Baenninger or Hemesath, Lindstrom points out. All of the ideas and challenges brought up in the conversation serve as the inspiration for the improvised scenes to follow, the Theater of Public Policy's website says. "The improvisers' tasks are not to make light of the issues or mock the players involved. Instead, scenes make the previous conversation come to life with living, breathing characters in the situations described," it says.

"I give them a ton of credit for participating in this improv performance," Lindstrom said of Baenninger and Hemesath.

Tickets are $20 for the general public, $17 for seniors, $10 for CSB/SJU faculty and staff and free for students and youth. Tickets are available at the box office; by calling 320-363-5777; or online.

The Theater of Public Policy and students from CSB and SJU will also put on a debate workshop at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in room 204C, Gorecki Dining and Conference Center, CSB. The workshop will be facilitated by Tane Danger and Branden Boat of the Theater of Public Policy, and is free and open to the public.

Members of the CSB and SJU Speech and Debate Club, other students and members of the troupe will talk about using humor in a public speaking or debate scenario.

"Public policy presentations can either be dry or overly polarizing," said Christi Siver, assistant professor of political science at CSB and SJU and adviser to the Debate and Speech Club. "This workshop will show participants how you can use humor to illuminate your points in a debate or speech."

The theater group will also offer two workshops to members of the Administrative Asemblies at CSB and SJU. The first is from 9-10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 27, in room 204A, Gorecki Dining and Conference Center, CSB. The second is from 10:30 a.m.-noon Friday, March 28, at room 264, Quadrangle Building, SJU. Register for either event online; space is limited and are not open to the public. Workshop participants will be taught how improv skills can build listening, collaborating and creativity skills in group dynamics.