Empathy is often heralded as a vital part of the theatrical experience. Generally understood as the experience of feeling what another person is feeling, it is believed to help actors create more honest performances and to help audiences better understand viewpoints different from their own. These empathic experiences are complicated, however, when applied to stories about characters who commit unforgivably evil acts and may lead people to feel manipulated into justifying or sharing the immoral beliefs of these characters. This thesis argues that for theatre practitioners telling stories about morally reprehensible characters, compassion, involving feelings of care and concern for another person and a desire for their well-being, is a more useful goal. Using the research of Paul Bloom and Tania Singer as well as the theoretical writings of Michael Chekhov and others, the author details several techniques in the fields of playwriting, acting, and dramaturgy to help tailor theatrical works to elicit compassionate reactions instead of empathic ones. Through compassion, theatre practitioners will be better equipped to use theatre to affect positive social change in their communities.
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Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Livingston, Amy, "Sympathy for the Devil: A Compassionate Approach to Morally Reprehensible Characters in Drama" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 522.