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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Kelly Bok

Kelly Bok works to build community during a workshop. (photo by Orion Rummler)
Kelly Bok works to build community during a workshop. (photo by Orion Rummler)

Bok uses theater to build community

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | March 29, 2017

Kelly Bok uses her theater skills as a tool to build community, but her first exposure to theater was as an actor.

"I've been interested in theater for as long as I can remember. I started acting when I was 9 years old at a yearly summer camp for theater. I remained involved with theater through high school as an actor and knew that theater was something I wanted to pursue during college.

"My mother took me to theater from a young age, I can thank her for introducing me to theater and helping me become involved in it as I grew up. When I was a teen, I found that theater had become to mean more to me than just something interesting or fun; it had become about the community I could build with those also involved in the productions and with those who came to the shows. Later I realized that what drew me to theater was its ability to create community and conversations that might have never happened before," she says.

When she enrolled in Emory & Henry College, Emory, Virginia, she came planning a double major in theater and political science. Her initial theater interest was to continue acting.

"I also became involved with costuming my freshman year and learned that I love to be a part of creating a production off stage in addition to acting. I truly prefer working with applied theater now. Applied theater uses theater techniques and exercises for education or community building," she says.

She credits Kelly Bremner, her advisor and theater department chair, with getting her involved in applied theater.

"For the applied theater work I am doing now, the artists I greatly admire are Augusto Boal, who is an Argentinian theater maker and Micheal Rohd. Boal created Theatre of the Oppressed and the forum theater system that I think really help facilitate communication between non-actors within the community and can lead to real change. While these men have created beautiful applied theater, I must thank my advisor Kelly Bremner who has helped me learn about applied theater and how to create it.

"I think theater is a tool that when used best reflects the world we live in and allows for the community to discuss the issues that matter most in life. I think blending theater and political science is a logical thing to do because it helps create meaningful pieces of theater that touch on the issues we all face. The theater allows people to connect to political issues in a different way, which in my experience allows for a deeper understanding of emotions tied to an issue," she says.

To blend her interest in theater and political science, she creates interactive workshops that start conversations about issues that concern a community.

"My recent interactive workshop called "The Divided States of America' focused on the 2016 presidential election. This election was filled with many strong emotions, and I saw a deep divide in America and on my campus. I believe one of the ways to move forward from the election is to begin to listen to those who have different opinions from our own and come together to work towards a better future.

"I created a workshop to allow for those opinions to be heard and for those who are different to find ways in which we can come together. I had a group of actors who worked with me for a month leading up to the evening of the workshop discussing these issues ourselves and training to lead the interactive activities with me.

"The night of the performance we did several activities. One of them was everyone wrote a sentence or two on a piece of paper about their feelings about the election. These pieces of paper were then thrown around the room until it could be guaranteed that no one knew where theirs had gone. The audience then read a stranger's opinions out loud to the group. Once all the statements were read, we as a group discussed themes present in all of the statements. This allowed for people to begin communicating about the election," she says.

Kelly graduates in the spring with an acting BFA and BA in political science. She will be working for Barter Theatre's project REAL in the summer and hopes to continue combining politics and theater in a meaningful way through applied theater.

She is the 21-year-old daughter of Nancy Dexter and is from Moneta, Virginia.