Kim Stauffer, a lecturer and certified facilitator at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, this fall took the lead in the well known show, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany.
In the show, the lead character embodies her teenage self to trace the Constitution’s impact on her life and the past four generations of women in her family. The scripted, 100-minute play deliberately leaves space for the lead actress to improvise based on the audience’s responses to the show.
“As we head into an election year and face incredible division in our country, this play serves as an invitation to a discourse that we desperately need. I believe art, and specifically theater, offer this as a service to society,” Stauffer said. “In this way, this play is an invitation to examine the effects of living in a country built on a constitution written by, for, and about white men. It asks, What happens now, when those of us who were left out of the preamble, are looking for laws to protect and guide us?”
Though the show is scripted, the actors in it are told to constantly watch and respond to the audience. In this way, it’s a constant balance between delivering lines and improvising. It also aligns well with her work at the Alda Center.
“Throughout each performance, I have to keep a permeable conversation going between me and the audience, allowing us to change each other,” Stauffer said. “I feel these same moments of permeability and presence when I am working as a facilitator for the Alda Center. We have our lesson plans, our curriculum, our goals, but the heart of our work is to listen and be changed.”
The Center offers professional development programs to help scientists and researchers improve their communication skills. The Center’s unique approach to these programs blends social science and communication research, communication strategy and improvisational theater techniques. The programs help scientists understand and relate to audiences, and craft and share messages that resonate with a particular individual or group.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” is on Broadway and a recording of that version of the production is available on Amazon Prime.
“Building genuine human connection is critical to communication and the exchange of ideas – in art, science, and just about every other arena that requires people to relate to each other,” said Laura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center and dean of the School of Communication and Journalism. “Many of our Alda-certified facilitators are leading theater professionals – actors and dramaturges – and it’s wonderful to see them succeed on the stage as well as with our scientists.”