Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment Through Theatre

Lynn Lammers’ work at Michigan State University has been nothing short of transformative. As Artistic Director of the Transforming Theatre Ensemble (TTE), she helps bring the art of theatre into a different area of campus life: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education.

Through specialized workshops, the TTE, which is part of MSU’s Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, uses theatrical performances with actors and scripts to serve as jumping-off points for discussions led by skilled facilitators to educate students, faculty, and staff about DEI topics. These interactive learning experiences engage participants in collaborative problem-solving by encouraging reflection and analysis of problematic attitudes and behaviors as a step toward transformation. The overall goal is to support a diverse and inclusive work environment.

Lynn Lammers

“Justice and liberation work is most impactful when done in the collective, and theatre is one way to make that happen,” said Lammers, who has an M.A. in Theatre from MSU. “TTE creates space for us to better understand each other and collectively imagine a different future at MSU.”

Before each TTE workshop, Lammers consults with individual groups to discuss their goals and learning objectives to help determine how to best create a productive and engaging experience.

“TTE creates space for us to better understand each other and collectively imagine a different future at MSU.”

In fall 2020, the TTE launched its Transforming MSU Playwriting Fellowship program in collaboration with MSU’s Department of Theatre to center student voices and create a space for authentic expression. This year’s six student fellows are developing a series of short plays to be presented later this spring in showcase performances for members of the MSU community.

These 10-minute student-written and student-performed plays will have a continued life as part of the TTE’s repertoire and may be performed in the context of hybrid performance workshops offered by the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion for MSU students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

A performance of Transforming MSU Playwriting Fellow Crystal Bernard’s Future Visions: Blackness Reimagined. Pictured from left to right: Kamryn Sarratt, Rileigh Wine, Anthony Monteleone, and Brooke Cousins.

“Theatre has huge potential as a tool for justice and liberation, as we can use it to communicate complex ideas while staying grounded in our humanity. That’s exciting. That’s hopeful,” Lammers said. “When I see the Transforming MSU Playwriting Fellows start to play with different theatrical conceits and dramatic structures to better get at the learning goals they have for their audience, I’m inspired. That process of tinkering and discovery is endlessly fascinating.

Lammers first became involved with this type of work as an actor with a similar ensemble at the University of Michigan.

“Theatre has huge potential as a tool for justice and liberation, as we can use it to communicate complex ideas while staying grounded in our humanity. That’s exciting. That’s hopeful.”

“When I saw how the work was landing on the audience and the kinds of conversations that blossomed out of it, I was drawn in,” Lammers said. “Theatre is a form of communication that, when done well, is more than the sum of its parts. Theatre layers language with sights, sounds, emotions, and communal experience. It’s a mode of storytelling that engages the whole human.”

Lammers then came to Michigan State University in 2007 as a graduate student in the Department of Theatre and became involved with the TTE during her first semester at MSU. Her role with the TTE eventually grew into a full-time position as the Artistic Coordinator and later Artistic Director.

Lynn Lammers facilitates a discussion during a Transforming Theatre Ensemble workshop featuring actors Aral Gribble and Rico Bruce Wade.

“I’m so grateful for the directing opportunities MSU’s Theatre Department gave me when I was a grad student. Reading and writing about theatre is valuable and has its place, but you can’t know theatre unless you make theatre,” Lammers said. “I learned a lot from the designers I worked with. They ask questions that I would never think to ask. I’m often stunned by how a designer can find one simple garment, one bit of fight choreography, or a paint treatment that gives the playwright’s words context, clarity, or potency and takes an audience’s breath away. The power of that! So, I encourage the playwriting fellows to think about design as they write, providing a description of the world of the play that designers can run with.”

“I’m so grateful for the directing opportunities MSU’s Theatre Department gave me when I was a grad student. Reading and writing about theatre is valuable and has its place, but you can’t know theatre unless you make theatre.”

As the Artistic Director for the TTE, Lammers does the casting, works with actors, and writes, directs, and produces almost everything the interactive theater troupe performs. During the TTE workshops, a large part of her job is to facilitate the conversations focused on DEI issues and topics.

Lammers has presented her work on interactive theatre at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity; the International Globalization, Diversity, and Education Conference; and the LaMaMa Director’s Symposium in Umbria, Italy. She is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. Her professional regional theatre work includes directing at Williamston Theatre, Kickshaw Theatre, Flint Repertory Theatre, and Tipping Point Theatre, among others.

Students interested in theatre and social justice are encouraged to consider applying to be part of the next cohort of Transforming MSU Playwriting Fellows. For more information, visit the TTE Call for Playwrights web page.