By Carrie Henderson
North Carolina Central University is taking an innovative approach to educating African Americans in the Triangle – by addressing major health concerns through the use of theater productions.
Since 2002, the Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute at NCCU has played a major role in theater productions dealing with issues of heart disease, stroke, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer. The annual productions are free to the public and present health information in a creative and engaging manner.
“Using theater to inform audiences about ways to improve their quality of life is growing in popularity and health organizations are increasingly realizing the potential of this approach,” according to research published by Jonathan Livingston, Assistant Professor and Director of Export Outreach at NCCU, and colleagues.
The productions have been a collaborative effort among different educational institutions, medical professionals and community members, including:
Dr. Pamela Martin, Associate Professor of Psychology at NC State, is among those collaborating on the plays. As a community psychologist, Dr. Martin understands the importance of gathering community stakeholders and working together toward improving health behaviors: “NC State is engaged in outreach to diverse communities in efforts to promote and create social change. Our partnership with NCCU is designed to improve the mental and physical health of African Americans through plays – we’re using small wins to create change in North Carolina.”
The plays are primarily geared toward low-income, African Americans in Triangle, a group that may have a lack of formal education and inadequate access to health care. Plays provide “edutainment” – a concept that rests on the belief that people are more responsive to entertainment infused with education rather than straight lecture.
Early findings suggest theater is an effective tool in educating African Americans about breast cancer. In general, the response from the public has been positive, and research has shown more individuals are getting health screenings after viewing the plays.
Funding for the plays comes from a grant the National Center of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Health Institute.
In the future, NCCU hopes to continue research to determine the effectiveness of theater as a tool to education communities about health disparities. Dr. Martin sees the potential for this type of work to grow: “We are at the beginning of our work. Hopefully theater productions as an educational tool can grow to focus on other challenges our communities face. Communities across the state and across the country can benefit from this type of work.”
For further information, please contact:
Dr. Jonathan Livingston
Assistant Professor and Director of Export Outreach BBRI
North Carolina Central University