Last night we were fortunate enough to have Patty Raun from the School of Performing Arts visit our class for a workshop about communicating science in a more personal way. This was a very unusual workshop for graduate students outside of the arts and very entertaining.
However, I don’t know if I agree with the role of theater in this context. Yes, on multiple occasions we heard that the goal is not to make scientists into actors but the end goal seemed to be towards making the content more entertaining, or tied at a fundamental level to some sort of human emotion.
This was a fun exercise, but I don’t think it gets at the root of the problem. In order to do this, communication scholars have been working for now over a century towards understanding persuasive messages. Large grants are awarded to faculty members who focus on health campaigns that utilize stories not only in interpersonal communication, but also in traditional and new media. A couple of “bullshit” theories and experiments have helped us to understand this process better (see Melanie Green and Timothy Brock’s 2000 work on narrative transportation from the social scientific perspective, or Walter Fisher’s 1984 narrative paradigm from the humanist, rhetorical side).