Teaching the “Intangibles”: Building Pedagogical Bridges Between Business, Entrepreneurship, and Theatre

  • Emily Rollie


The interdisciplinary nature of theatre is perhaps obvious to those who work and teach within the discipline. However, amid budget cuts and an increasingly neoliberal socio-political context, it is becoming increasingly necessary to teach beyond the discipline and to model the ways that theatre skills connect to, support, and complicate other areas of knowledge. For over five years, I have collaborated with a colleague who teaches in the College of Business and who invited me to teach a theatre workshop for his business and entrepreneurship students. Specifically, I was asked to teach “the intangibles,” or elements of body language, acting, and improvisation. While these are “intangible,” instinctual elements of a business proposal or interaction, they are much more tangible aspects of a theatre professor’s pedagogy. Using my experience with these acting and improvisation workshops as a representative case study, this essay explores theatre’s unique ability to build a bridge between the arts and business/entrepreneurship. With Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future as a theoretical framework, this essay offers both a model and justification for similar interdisciplinary collaborations. Moreover, the essay argues for an increased incorporation of such acting and improvisation courses in existing business/entrepreneurship curricula—both as a vehicle to sustain arts departments and to highlight the overlapping skills between performance and business.

In spring 2011, I was contacted by a colleague who teaches in the College of Business at our university and who invited me to teach a theatre workshop for his business and entrepreneurship students.1 Specifically, I was asked to teach what my colleague termed “the intangibles.” Admittedly, I was initially baffled by this term and its application to theatre; after all, we, like other disciplines, do have tangible pedagogical outcomes for our classes. However, further questioning and a more detailed conversation with my colleague revealed that the “intangibles” included elements of body language, acting, and improvisation : the “intangible” or instinctual elements of a business proposal or interaction, which are much more tangible aspects of a theatre professor’s pedagogy. Even as undergraduates, many of my colleague’s students were actively engaging with business professionals and pitching business ideas, but few of those students had any performance experience or embodied awareness. Inspired by this initial conversation and the possibilities of working across disciplines, I created a workshop entitled “Making Acting and Improvisation Your ‘Business,’” focused on introducing these entrepreneurship students to basic acting and improvisational skills. This one-day workshop utilized acting exercises and improvisation to teach creativity, ensemble building, body awareness, vocal presentation, and improvisational skills. Each exercise was scaffolded to build upon the last and make the “intangible” skills of creativity, quick thinking, vocal and physical communication, and collaboration more tangible and applicable.

Since this initial invitation to “teach the intangibles” to my colleague’s business and entrepreneurship students, I have taught over ten iterations of this full-day workshop , once each semester in fall and spring, and this workshop has become one of the pedagogical opportunities I look forward to each semester. Moreover, the students seem to have discovered its value, too; in addition to the approximately 30 students enrolled in the course each semester, we also regularly have a handful of students from previous semesters’ workshops return to continue to hone their improvisational skills and refresh their acting knowledge. One student—the current record holder in return appearances—was a young man who participated in five consecutive workshops , each time noting how he discovered something new in that particular iteration, with that particular group of students, to apply to his business path.

While the inherently interdisciplinary nature of theatre is perhaps obvious to those of us who work and teach within the discipline, amid budget cuts facing many institutions of higher education and a neoliberal socio-political context, it is becoming increasingly necessary to teach beyond our discipline, modeling the ways in which theatre skills connect, support, and enhance other knowledge areas. Indeed, major businesses and Fortune 500 companies point to skills such as collaboration, creativity, and communication—all skills arguably employed and honed within theatre and acting—as necessary and desirable in employees. A 2016 Wall Street Journal article, for example, reported that companies across the country are deeming “soft skills” such as clear communication, teamwork (what theatre artists might call “collaboration”), and creative problem-solving increasingly more important in new hires, but also increasingly more difficult to find (Davidson 2016). Furthermore, according to recent statistics, college graduates joining the workforce will work over 10 different jobs in their lifetimes, with the median time spent in a job being 4.4 years (Kamenetz 2012). Thus, it seems only apt that students who face a rapidly changing job market with an increasing diversity of jobs in a more globalized workplace should develop skills and flexible, creative thinking gained through theatre, improvisation , and acting.

An expanded, interdisciplinary pedagogical approach which focuses on leadership skills more broadly also falls in line with recent work of renowned psychologist and educational theorist Howard Gardner. As noted in this book’s Introduction, Gardner is perhaps most famous for his theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), which advocated for a broader consideration of how students learn and outlined seven (and later nine) different intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, visual /spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential.2 More recently, Gardner has expanded his research to look beyond the Multiple Intelligences and has advocated for a pedagogical approach that considers Five Minds for the Future (2006). These Five Minds mark a turn in Gardner’s work in that he “ventures further” than his earlier work and explores the “kinds of minds people will need if they—if we—are to thrive in the world during the eras to come” (1). In many ways drawing from and synthesizing the original Multiple Intelligences, these five minds include the Disciplined Mind, the Synthesizing Mind, the Creating Mind, the Respectful Mind, and the Ethical Mind. In brief, the Disciplined Mind employs a twofold use of the word “disciplined”; in one sense referring to one’s ability to dive deeply into a specific discipline or craft to acquire deep knowledge or expertise, and in a second sense referring to the act and mental state of being disciplined, or working diligently to hone one’s skill and understanding. Particularly useful in a cultural moment when people are inundated by information at overwhelming rates, the Synthesizing Mind brings together and evaluates information from disparate sources, synthesizing it for one’s self and others. Building on the Synthesizing Mind is the Creating Mind, or the innovator which thinks outside of the proverbial box and offers new ideas and ways of thinking. The last two minds draw more specifically from Gardner’s intra- and interpersonal intelligences, with the Respectful Mind considering our diverse and globalized society, not only recognizing differences between individuals but also attempting to understand them and finding ways to work and collaborate with them. Finally, there is the Ethical Mind, which considers how one works—the methods and approaches to working—and how individuals can work together to better the work of all.

While these Five Minds draw from and incorporate Gardner’s famed multiple intelligences, he also specifically notes that the Five Minds diverge from the Multiple Intelligences in that the Five Minds are more focused on the “broad uses of the mind” to be applied not only in education but also in professional life and human interactions (2006, 4). Indeed, in an increasingly diverse and globalized socio-cultural context, this broader understanding of learning and thinking should also be the focus of our work in higher education, particularly within the discipline of theatre, in which the stories we tell regularly ask audiences and artists to think across the traditional multiple intelligences and connect with more theoretical, philosophical, and intangible ideas like empathy, compassion, understanding, and art. American theatre director Anne Bogart posits in her 2007 book And Then You Act: Making Art in Unpredictable Times that art can and should “encourage people to be more empathetic to the world,” and to illustrate, she offers an example of a 1992 art exhibition by Bill Viola which worked across disciplines and intelligences (67). Bogart writes that Viola’s exhibit was “simultaneously political, philosophical, scientific, technological, and deeply personal” and “it trigged in me empathy” (67). In a similar vein, Gardner notes that the Five Minds “span both the cognitive spectrum and the human enterprise,” something that contemporary education and our discipline both strive to do (4). To my mind, this marks the current and developing approach for theatre pedagogy, and Gardner’s Five Minds offer a strong framework upon which to base that pedagogical shift. Gardner’s consideration of the Five Minds, particularly via the inherently interdisciplinary lens of theatre pedagogy, invites and challenges our students to explore how to be in the world, which is the charge of contemporary theatre teaching, to my mind. Like Gardner , I see our quickly changing and increasingly diverse, globalized world and posit that we, as contemporary theatre instructors and artists, need to expand our pedagogical strategies to better meet the demands of the world surrounding our students.

With an eye toward this changing world and a similarly changing educational environment, this essay uses Gardner’s Five Minds theory as a theoretical framework to examine my work with business students in the aforementioned acting and improv workshops . Presenting these workshops and the long-standing collaboration with my business colleague as a representative case study, I explore theatre’s ability to build a bridge between the arts and business/entrepreneurship. Through this exploration, I also offer a model and justification for other such interdisciplinary collaborations as well as make a case for an increased incorporation of acting and improvisation courses in existing business and entrepreneurship curricula—both as a vehicle to sustain arts departments and to highlight the overlap of skills between performance and business leadership.

Developing and Implementing the Workshop

Following my initial conversations with my business colleague, I ruminated for some time about how to best structure our workshop to meet the skills he had identified as “intangibles” in our meeting, some of which included physical and vocal awareness; creative , on-your-feet thinking (improvisational skills); challenging students to step out of their comfort zones; team-building; and “overall fun.” Using these skills as the foundation for learning outcomes, I then crafted a day-long workshop plan that not only built on students’ existing skills in performance (however broadly construed), but also scaffolded their learning, moving from ensemble-building to physical awareness of self, to physical awareness and observation of others, to vocal skills, and ultimately to improvisational skills. Although this constructivist teaching approach, in which students learn via active engagement and frequent reflection on their growing understanding, is common for theatre instruction, it is perhaps less common in a business classroom. As a result, it takes some time for some of the students to “warm up” to the pedagogical model. In fact, many of them see the initial—and admittedly slightly ridiculous—activities as merely “fun games.” However, this attitude actually allows these students to engage in a sense of play and risk-taking that a more formal approach may not encourage. Additionally, this playful, informal atmosphere develops a greater sense of unity and ensemble, as students are more willing to invest in the “game” and less worried about demonstrating their acting skills. My colleague has often remarked that, through the course of the workshop, he sees students’ individual personalities emerge and shine in ways that he has not seen in a more formal classroom setting.

For each workshop iteration, I continually revise and restructure the activities, using the same framework and some of the “usual suspects” exercises that I incorporated in the initial workshop while also including new exercises that speak to (1) the needs and interests that were voiced by students in the previous workshops and (2) the points of curiosity articulated by the students in the room at the start of each specific workshop.

While some of the activities may shift from semester to semester, there are elements that remain consistent for all the workshops. First, I begin the morning with a thorough introduction of myself, offering transparency in what I bring to the table and my long-standing investment in the group itself. Then I request introductions from the students, including a moment for each student to articulate what they hope to gain from the workshop. This transparency not only engenders a sense of community and a recognition that we all have skills that will be valuable at the table—a more liberatory pedagogy vis-à-vis Paulo Freire3—but also allows me to learn about their interests and gain a sense of their previous experience with theatre. Most students’ background in theatre ranges from “I was the lead tree in my first-grade play” to “I performed in all of my high school musicals.” Ultimately, these early conversations allow me to tie our theatre work to the students’ personal and educational interests throughout the day.

Several other strategies employed in these introductory moments help bridge the interdisciplinary divide and segue the students more comfortably into the learning environment. For instance, normally during this introductory session the room is arranged in a more formal, traditional classroom setting with chairs in multiple rows and facing the front of the room. While the theatre artist in me craves a more equitable formation such as a circle from the start, I embrace this more formal classroom structure initially, for as educational theorist Stephen Brookfield (2017) notes, the circle, so often the default arrangement of many theatre or discussion-oriented classrooms, can be intimidating for some students who may feel exposed or under public scrutiny in this open, physical arrangement (28). Although the students in our workshop are disciplinarily diverse, many of them are still accustomed and more comfortable in a traditional seating structure. Therefore, I intentionally arrange the classroom in rows to allow the students to settle in and acclimate to me, my theatrical teaching style, and each other before asking them to push back the chairs and get on their feet for the remainder of the day.

Once on our feet, we then begin with ice breaker and group activities. In this section of the workshop I intentionally select exercises with low stakes (such as games with no winners or losers), full group participation, and combined vocal and physical investment. On a practical level, this allows us to get to know each other’s names and begin to see individual personalities—a method of encouraging the awareness associated with Gardner’s Respectful Mind as students begin to see their colleagues move beyond their usual classroom personas. Because this is a one-day workshop that I teach once each semester, my intervention in the students’ learning typically occurs at least four or five weeks into their semester (and sometimes later); however, it is amazing how many students do not know each other’s names beyond their immediate seat partners. While the strategy of learning students’ names may seem basic, Brookfield and others have long encouraged instructors to develop a sense of rapport in the classroom, a good portion of which can be cultivated by regularly utilizing students’ names.

I also tie the discussion of using names to acting theory, thus creating a more formal entry point for curricular ties between acting and theatre. Drawing on Stanislavski and Meisner, we discuss the act of “being in the moment” and the import of responding authentically to your partner. The response of your partner also requires a deeper sense of knowing and connection; calling a person by name is one of the simplest ways to initiate that relationship. I pledge to know the students’ names by the conclusion of the morning session, and that moment of pedagogical transparency coupled with an articulation of basic acting theory typically illuminates the proverbial light bulb in the students’ heads, as they connect these acting techniques to their personal experiences and extend them to their business work and interactions. In a larger sense, these exercises also introduce the students subtly to the larger, key areas that we will develop during the rest of the workshop, but without highlighting or prioritizing one skill over another. Instead, this pedagogical strategy allows students to put the pieces together on their own as we discuss the more specific theatrical elements later in the workshop, thus engaging the Synthesizing Mind and encouraging students to connect their knowledge across disciplines and experiences.

Throughout the workshop, following each acting exercise, in a true constructivist teaching mode, I also ask the students to reflect immediately and honestly upon their experience with the activity. All responses are encouraged and accepted, thus modeling the Respectful Mind and allowing me to adjust activities as I gain a deeper sense of the dynamics of the group. Following the initial responses concerning their personal experience in the acting activity, I ask a second pair of questions that further encourage the Synthesizing Mind: How do you see this applying to acting and performance? How might it apply to your work in entrepreneurship? Initially, these discussions are brief, as the students are still building their skills and theatrical awareness; however, as the day goes along, the students invariably find more and more connections between these “silly theatre activities” and their work in business/entrepreneurship. In fact, these debriefing moments are perhaps the most formative, educational moments of the workshop; they often beget deeper conversations and teachable moments that span our disciplinary divides. As one student commented, in business, as in improvisation , “when something goes wrong in a project you just have to go with it and keep moving forward towards the goal. Nothing ever works out as planned, and acting and improv are helpful skills to help you think on your feet.”4 Perhaps even more efficacious is the fact that my business colleague also often participates in these debriefings, offering specific moments in his experience that illustrate the disciplinary crossovers that the students are identifying, thus modeling and reinforcing the ways that these performance skills and exercises have relevance beyond the workshop and in the students’ professional as well as educational lives.

From ice breakers and ensemble-building, we move on to more specific exercises that address physical awareness: first of students’ own bodies and then expanding to explore how they might see or interpret others’ bodies. To introduce a greater sense of physical awareness, I ask the students to participate in an exercise I call the Scene of Silence. To start, students are divided into groups of four or five,5 and each group is given a half-sheet of paper that includes a list of moments such as “a wedding,” “a smile and a frown,” “a moment of stillness,” and “a moment of audience interaction.” The items, typically about 15 in total, are all listed on each sheet, albeit in different orders on each group’s sheet. I then reveal the students’ charge: they must create a silent, movement-based scene that includes all these items, in any order, and in any narrative structure. The caveat is that they have only five minutes to plan and four of those planning minutes are in silence. Inevitably, moments of alternating chaos and creativity ensue, complete with frantic gesturing and sudden bursts of laughter. During the final minute in which the groups can speak, the room erupts in a cacophony of voices, the energy now slightly less frantic and more eager as the group solidifies certain moments and celebrates their common understanding despite the lack of words in the previous four minutes.

At the end of their total planning time, the students perform what normally have become hilarious but quite understandable scenes with relatively concrete narratives. We then debrief, during which my initial question—“what was this activity like for you?”—is normally met with a chorus of groans and grimaces. From there, we discuss why it was hard (we took away the words) but as I continue to probe with questions, students normally reveal their surprise that they were still able to communicate and understand the elements in each story, especially pointing to the moments that involved particularly striking or strong physical choices. Through this activity, the students not only become more attuned to physical distinctions and messages, but also take another step toward ensemble-building and collaborative understanding.

By this point, we have built enough rapport and comfort that we can move into more individualized activities and performances. I normally follow the Scene of Silence with a second, seemingly innocuous task: I ask half the group to take their things and leave the room. Once the group of students is beyond the doors, I reveal to the remaining students that their task is to carefully observe how the others re-enter the room, handle their things, and inhabit their space, such as standing or sitting down. I then visit the students outside of the room and ask them to enter the space as they did when they arrived that morning, put their things down, and prepare for what comes next. This maintains my intention to create a space of simple, non-performative (in a formal sense), and low stakes activities. Once the first group has re-entered the space, I ask the “audience” to articulate their charge and offer their observations. I also reinforce with the students that these are simply observations, not judgements, which allows an opportunity to discuss the difference between observation-acceptance and interpretation-judgement and subtly encourages students’ Respectful and Ethical Minds. These observations normally elicit some laughs and nods of agreement from the “actors,” and it also allows an avenue to discuss the levels of physical performance, especially as the “actors” share their experience and reveal their intentions as they entered the space. The usefulness of this activity is threefold: (1) it subtly segues our performance frameworks from complete group performance to more individual performances within the group, albeit in a natural, organic state, but preparing us for more formal performances via short form improvisational exercises later in the day, (2) it encourages students to begin to think about how they move through and inhabit space on a regular basis, and (3) it reveals how one’s movements can be interpreted, either as intended or not. Over the semesters that I have led this workshop this exercise has emerged as one of the turning points of the workshop. Through this exercise and the subsequent discussion, the students begin to better understand how actors’ attention to physicality as a way of creating character also can be seen and applied on a broader performative level, including in the ways these physical mannerisms might be construed and utilized in business interactions. Building upon the students’ increasing physical awareness, we then engage in a variety of exercises, such as experimenting with body leads, Laban Movement Effort-Actions, and more specific vocal awareness and acting skills6—all with an eye toward how these physical and vocal performative measures create perceptions of power within individual and group interactions, which is something that these students who are preparing to pitch business ideas to local investors take to heart.

Physical and vocal awareness exercises, coupled with ensemble-building activities, usually occupy the entire morning. By the afternoon portion of the workshop, the students normally have developed a sense of play and trust within the ensemble, have begun to be more aware of how their physical and vocal lives play into the creation of their “performance,” and are more equipped to identify the overlaps between acting theory and entrepreneurship. At this point in the workshop, they are ready for the next layer: experimenting with storytelling and exploring power dynamics in relationships, both of which are elements that the students quickly realize are integral parts of both the theatre and business worlds. Thus, we jump more deeply into improvisational thinking, or modes that activate the Creative , Synthesizing, and Disciplined Minds, including more traditional, short-form improv -based exercises, starting with those that introduce in-the-moment thinking, agreement (or “Yes and”), and establish key information (or given circumstances).

All the improv activities we explore during the afternoon require students to work in small groups or pairs, maintaining the collaborative and creative environment while also slowly moving them toward individual performances, which take the form of improvisational award acceptance speeches. The awards are ones that the students themselves have created during the lunch break and recorded on a notecard. The students’ award cards are then collected and, when it comes time for the final “award ceremony,” each student draws an award at random and then performs a brief acceptance speech in front of the group. This culminating activity asks students to think spontaneously, consider physical and vocal presentation, incorporate insights from the day’s activities, and, for the first time during the day, perform individually. Ranging from “World’s Hairiest Legs” and “Best Lip Synch to a Justin Bieber Song” to “Heisman Winner” and “Oscar for Best Supporting Actor,” the awards offer students a platform in which to employ and experiment with the many skills they explored during the course of the workshop, but still in a low stakes performance environment that has ties to their work in business/entrepreneurship, which regularly requires them to present new ideas and products to larger groups.

Interpreting the Workshop: Outcomes, Discoveries, and Implications

Over the course of the past six years, teaching this workshop consistently ranks as one of the teaching highlights of my semester for several reasons. First and foremost, this workshop highlights the pedagogical possibility and potential of interdisciplinary collaboration. For my own pedagogy and artistry, I find the insights offered by the business/entrepreneurship students refreshing, offering new directions for my own perspective of the theatrical discipline, art form, and pedagogy. Because these students come from a variety of disciplinary majors and are engaged in the creative “think-tank” atmosphere of the Entrepreneurship Alliance, their observations and connections—the way their Synthesizing Minds work and continue to develop when exposed to theatre—are often unexpected and revealing. Their existing knowledge of business and entrepreneurial minds give them a different lens on performance and the skills that acting/improvisation builds, which subsequently refreshes my own perspective of the work we do in our field.

Although they only have a single day’s exposure to these acting exercises, by the end of the workshop, the students see significantly more value in the interdisciplinary connections and the ways acting can impact their business interactions. Before participating in the workshop, one student observed, “I didn’t think [acting] was for me. Not my slice of pie.” However, following the workshop, the same student reflected, “I learned way more than I thought. I basically challenged [the teacher] to prove me wrong, to change my mind about acting and improv , and she sure did that.”7 This interdisciplinary connection and the experiential realizations that acting and theatre can be useful in a business context, that it can make the “intangibles” more tangible, is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of such a collaboration. By exposing the students to a different, more artistic, embodied, and performative disciplinary perspective, I enjoy watching them grow and seeing them make connections across disciplines.

Very quickly in the implementation of this workshop, my colleague and I also discovered that, in addition to teaching the embodied and “intangible” skills of physical awareness, stage presence, and creative thinking, the workshop also served as a powerful catalyst for creating ensemble and strengthening group dynamics. Granted, theatre and acting are naturally collaborative, responsive, interpersonal acts, thus developing Gardner’s interpersonal mode of intelligence. However, by asking students to get on their feet and physically, vocally, and imaginatively interact with their colleagues, they begin to consider each other as individuals. Students learn about each other through the theatrical exercises and developing a stronger sense of ensemble, or team. While this development of ensemble was initially one of the goals of the workshop, this element has proven so potent and powerful that we now strategically schedule the workshop to fall early on the class’s time together to inspire more active collaboration and teambuilding.

Perhaps most importantly, I have also come to realize that collaborations like these—interdisciplinary, ensemble-driven, and beyond the bounds of the traditional theatre classroom—are a viable and necessary direction for theatre pedagogy and the future of our discipline. Our work as educators and theatre artists is to prepare our students to function in an ever-changing, increasingly globalized world. We are thus charged with creating a liberatory pedagogy, a pedagogy that frees one from strict disciplinary or linear thinking and encourages growth beyond disciplinary knowledge and skillsets, preparing students’ minds to adapt and function in the future. In the opening pages of Anne Bogart’s book What’s the Story (2014), she posits that “the moment is ripe to activate new models and proposals for how arts organizations can flourish in the present climate and into an uncertain future” and asks theatre artists to consider key questions such as “Can we begin to think of ourselves, rather than stagers of plays, as orchestrators of social interactions in which a performance is a part, but only a fragment of that interaction?” (2). While Bogart , a theatre educator herself, is specifically naming arts organizations and professional artists in her charge, I believe her challenge is even more pertinent for educational theatre and theatre in higher education. How can theatre education flourish in the present and in the face of an uncertain future? Theatre’s inherently interdisciplinary, multi-modal, and embodied way of knowing and learning makes it well suited for those pedagogical approaches; however, the structure of higher education often siloes the disciplines, making interdisciplinary collaboration difficult. I argue that it is still worth undertaking, for these business students need performance training as much as actors do. Moreover, many of these students—some of whom are running thriving, financially viable small businesses as undergraduate students—will go on to be the patrons, audience members, and arts supporters upon whom our professional arts organizations depend.

Finally, linking theatre with other disciplines, particularly business/entrepreneurship, encourages greater creative thought and risk taking for both the students and the theatre instructors. This creative thought and creative risk taking is key for the business innovators of the future, but it also has ramifications in terms of one’s neural networks and overall thought processes. According to neuroscientist and musician David Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (2016), creative thought is needed on a neurocognitive level, as it provides a balance for more traditional, linear thinking. “Artists recontexualize reality and offer visions that were previously invisible. Creativity…stimulates the free flow and association of ideas, forging links between concepts and neural modes that might not otherwise be made. In this way, engagement in art as either a creator or consumer helps us by hitting the reset button on our brains. […] We reimagine our relationship to the world” (217). When one looks closely, Levitin’s ideas echo that of Gardner’s , simply from a slightly different disciplinary angle. Placing the Creative Mind at its center, Levitin’s theory also links creative thought with synthesis (“forging links…that might not otherwise be made”), respect and ethical thought (“offer visions that were previously invisible” and “reimagine our relationship to the world”), and, through his recognition that most people are imbedded in deep linear thought, the disciplined mind (217). Thus, these pedagogical approaches that link the arts with more traditional modes of thinking can introduce greater creative thought for all parties involved.

In a world that is changing at a faster rate than ever before, it is imperative that we look for new ways to educate students and link theatre and the arts to broader learning contexts and disciplines. As part of the Five Minds theory, Gardner passionately advocates for “undertaking new educational practices,” specifically noting that not only does the changing world mandate a change in pedagogical approach but also, and perhaps more importantly, the “current practices are not actually working” (10). A pedagogical shift is clearly necessary, and this shift holds great opportunity for theatre educators and programs. A move toward increased collaboration with disciplines and organizations outside the arts may mean a stronger, more embodied educational approach for all students as well as a stronger case for the longevity and necessity of theatre departments in financially pressed institutions of higher education. While these collaborations have and are happening, including at prestigious institutions such as MIT’s Sloan School of Management, now is the time to take them a step further, perhaps offering cross-listed courses in business and theatre or encouraging semester- or year-long courses in addition to weekend workshops like ours (Kuhel 2015). Moreover, bringing acting students and business students together could benefit both disciplines; for instance, it is possible that these business students can offer acting students insights about marketing and running their own small business as professional actors. As in any pedagogical collaboration, we have much to learn from each other and ways to make the “intangibles” in each discipline much more tangible, as well as consider more broadly how we can use theatre to develop the Five Minds that will help us all thrive, empathize, and breathe creativity into the changing world around us.


  1. 1.

    A special thanks to my colleague Greg Bier, director of the University of Missouri Entrepreneurship Alliance (EA), his administrative assistant Kelly Mattas, and the students of the EA for their willingness to engage in the arts and support this interdisciplinary collaboration so wholeheartedly.

  2. 2.

    Gardner justifies these expansions and new directions in multiple intelligences in his 2006 publication , Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, with particular attention to his thought process and exploration into spiritual intelligence, which eventually gave way to “existential intelligence” due to the truly intangible nature of some aspects of spirituality.

  3. 3.

    Best known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Brazilian educator Paulo Freire was influential in advocating for critical pedagogy, an educational approach that considers the acts of teaching and learning to be political endeavors and essential for oppressed groups’ agency and liberation. One of Freire’s key points was an educational model that countered the traditional “banking method” in which teachers deposited knowledge into students’ presumably empty heads.

  4. 4.

    Anonymous written student response, July 2017.

  5. 5.

    I have observed that the scenes from larger groups are less cohesive and coherent overall, with less investment in the project by all group members.

  6. 6.

    Body leads can be described as the part of the body that breaks the forward plane of movement first, such as the forehead, the chin, the belly, or the hips. By exaggerating these leads, the students discover how their body position can impact their pace, mental state, and other aspects of performance. Similarly, Laban Movement Effort-Actions comes from the work of choreographer Rudolf Laban, who described human movement with four qualities: direction, weight, speed, and flow. While his system is larger than can be covered in a single exercise or workshop , introducing the eight Effort-Actions (wring, press, flick, dab, glide, float, punch, slash), each of which embodies a different combination of the four qualities, provides the students with vocabulary to differentiate types of movement.

  7. 7.

    Anonymous student comment, July 2017.


  1. Bogart, Anne. 2007. And Then, You Act: Making Art in Unpredictable Times. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2014. What’s the Story: Essays About Art, Theatre, and Storytelling. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Brookfield, Stephen. 2017. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Davidson, Katie. 2016. Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply. Wall Street Journal, August 30. Accessed 15 June 2017.
  5. Gardner, Howard. 1983. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 2006. Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  7. Kamenetz, Anya. 2012. The Four-Year Career. Fast, January 12. Accessed 1 June 2017.
  8. Kuhel, Beth. 2015. It’s No Joke: Business Lessons from Improvisational Theatre. Huffington Post, February 12. Accessed 1 July 2017.
  9. Levitin, Daniel J. 2016. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Rollie
    • 1
  1. 1.Central Washington UniversityEllensburgUSA

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