“Performing theater is an opportunity to experience the world through the eyes of the playwright, to develop empathy, to learn things about how the world works and to experience creativity in action.” – Suzanne Burgoyne

That was how Suzanne Burgoyne simply but eloquently explained why she recently pledged $1 million estate gift to help create the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research at the University of Missouri.

Burgoyne is Professor of Directing, Creativity, and Theatre of the Oppressed in the Department of Theatre at the University of Missouri. She is actively involved in applying theatre techniques to communicate science and to help scientists create broader impacts, while making an impact of her own, of which the recent pledge is a part.

Announcing Burgoyne’s $1 million estate gift, MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said that “through her generosity and dedication to her craft, it is obvious that Dr. Burgoyne is passionate about theater education.” He went on to say that “Dr. Burgoyne is a credit to the MU faculty and to the entire academic community. She is a model of how giving back to the University can not only improve education and important research, but also extend the goals, passions and dreams of donors beyond their lifetimes.”

“We are not doing enough to teach creativity, and applied theater is a great way to introduce students to new, innovative ways of thinking,” Burgoyne said. “I hope the new Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research will open doors for future funding and research into an area that will be vital for human achievement in the 21st century.”

Burgoyne has been working with Jack Schultz and the MU Science Communication Network to help scientists better communicate with the public. Burgoyne uses theatre and acting techniques to help scientists and science teachers be effective in front of an audience, help them relax, and sharpen the points they want to make.

Burgoyne and Clyde Ruffin founded the Mizzou Interactive Theatre in 2003. Currently, the Mizzou Interactive Theatre has in its repertoire performances on diversity issues, gender bias in STEM fields, and improving healthcare communication, among others. Burgoyne has worked with Jim Campbell at the School of Medicine to create interactive theatre performances on patient-physician communication about breast cancer.

Burgoyne says that research suggests that people remember a theatre performance much more than they do a presentation or lecture. She is looking for ways in which the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research can disseminate research, using its power to engage people in active learning to create broader impacts.

Burgoyne says the performances have been getting strong responses. While they have increased sensitivity among medical students (“I don’t want to be a jerk like the doctor in this performance!”), they have also created feelings of empowerment in patients. “They now are able to say ‘I don’t want to be intimidated’ and ‘I want you to treat me as a person,’” she says.