Theater of Public Policy: Artist-in-Residence covers multiple dimensions of public policy and health issues

The Twin Cities-based group will help students engage in critical and ethical reflection on issues of public health and public policy, in areas related to gun violence, racism, mental health and LGBTQ issues.

Kou Okada '22 Apr. 4, 2019

Theater of Public Policy

Update: The April 10 public event was canceled due to weather and will be rescheduled.

On April 10 and 11, the Twin Cities-based The Theater of Public Policy (T2P2) will be on campus as part of a two-day artist residency examining issues of public health and public policy.

T2P2 is a nationally touring improv comedy group that has performed over 300 times across the country. The group aims to “advance the understanding of complex ideas and issues by drawing on improvisational comedy” through shows and experiential workshops that help audiences grapple with political questions, as well as issues of ethics, social justice, inequality and diversity.

During the residency, T2P2 will visit several classes where the group will interact and improv about a diverse array of policy-related issues, including diversity, sexual education and social justice; hold a career conversation with students who are working toward a public policy minor; and host an open event April 10 entitled, “Let’s Talk (and Improv!) about Sex,” where the group will first facilitate a panel discussion and then improv on the challenges and opportunities of talking about issues related to sex. The event is a live, unscripted conversation featuring State Representative Todd Lippert, Planned Parenthood Clinical Programs Manager Dylan Karsten, and HOPE Center Executive Director Erica Staab.

We asked Debby Walser-Kuntz, professor of biology, and Lori Pearson, professor of religion and David and Marian Adams Bryn-Jones distinguished teaching professor of the humanities —who collaborated in organizing this event—about this upcoming residency.

What inspired you to bring T2P2 to Carleton?

DWK: As I was looking for organizations and people to meet with while planning this past December's winter break Public Health in Practice OCS program, I came across T2P2 and was intrigued by what they do. Policy is a significant component of public health and we visit with several public health professionals working in the policy arena. I was excited to think about collaborating with them and reached out to [Pearson], as we have worked on similar collaborations in the past.

LP: [Walser-Kuntz] and I brought the Theater of Public Policy here for a small workshop for students in our fall courses. My A&I (Argument and Inquiry Seminar) addressed issues of theology and racial justice, and  [Walser-Kuntz]'s fall course was on public health, so we worked together to design a program on racism and gun violence. The success of T2P2’s visit in the fall inspired us also to plan a larger event this spring for the wider campus community.

What inspired this project?

LP: [Walser-Kuntz] and I thought it would be valuable to address issues related to sexual health from the perspective of public policy and education, and to encourage the Carleton community to reflect on the public health dimensions of sex education, including access to information and care, and issues of inequality and marginalization. We also thought it would be great to have a theater that was created by liberal arts graduates bring their cast to campus to encourage conversation about complex issues, and the T2P2 is well positioned to do this through their art.

Why did you decide to bring in a theater group?

DWK: We were interested in the approach of improv theater for a few reasons. One is that a theme of our Public Health in Practice OCS program was the connection between art and healing—theater is another form of art. Secondly, [we thought] that people might listen and learn more if a sensitive topic is approached through humor.

How does this residency fit into the larger picture here at Carleton?

DWK: There is a series of events called SEXploration that will be happening this term on campus around sexual health as part of a large collaboration between staff and students from SHAC, the Office of Health Promotion, CCCE, GSC and OIIL. (The Health and Wellness Fellows from CCCE were especially involved in planning the term's events.) This event is one part of the series, and the topic is K-12 sex education and how policy decisions around K-12 sex-ed impact people's health.

LP: I am working with [Walser-Kuntz] on this project in my capacity as director of the Humanities Center, which is devoted to providing intellectual leadership and thoughtful reflection about the human condition in its diversity and complexity, and promotes [this goal] through our public events on campus. [...] This program enables us all to think together about how the humanities and arts can help us reflect on and address societal and policy issues, such as education policy, sexual health and access to healthcare.

This Artist-in-Residence is made possible by Carleton’s Public Works: Arts & Humanities Connecting Communities grant endowed by the The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition to the Public Works Project support, the visit is made possible through additional funds from the Humanities Center and the Broom Fellow for Public Scholarship.