Marcellus Shale. Discuss.

Marcellus Shale. Discuss

Shannon Deep and Tim Dawson

Like many of us, Shannon Deep (BHA'10, HNZ'11) has witnessed her share of emotionally-charged town hall meetings and political debates.

Inspired by her passion for theater, she created an experience that engages the public in informed conversations about hot-button issues — and aims to put an end to all that shouting.  

Where deliberative democracy typically informs citizens with unbiased background documents on a topic, Deep takes that one step further — with a theatrical performance on the subject.

"I have long been a believer in the power of theater as a social change agent," said the Carnegie Mellon University alum. "Deliberative Theater is a way to show how effecting theater can really be."

Most recently, Deep found an opportunity to tackle the controversial topic of Marcellus Shale drilling when CMU's Program for Deliberative Democracy teamed up with WQED-TV, Pop City, the Coro Center for Civic Leadership and the Unseam'd Shakespeare Company.

Their goal? To explore ways that we can all work together at the intersection of government, industry and community.

"Managing Marcellus," a Deliberative Theater performance written by Deep, is designed to inform people of the Shale controversy and different viewpoints.

Deep expects to inspire thoughtful discussion and questions in the participants' minds.

"In many cases, simply being asked to rise to the task of thinking collaboratively about hot-button issues can take a discussion to the next level — past purely emotional reactions, yelling or shutting out opposing viewpoints," she said.

How it will work: The audience will take a pre-survey that examines how much they know about the topic.

Then they'll view a theatrical performance designed to present many of the perspectives surrounding the issue. Along the way audience members will experience surprising twists and turns in their attitudes toward the characters.

The audience will break into small groups and discuss the topic. They'll have the opportunity to have questions  addressed by an expert panel during a Q&A, followed by more discussion and a post-survey.

"Our entire team has done a lot of research into this topic and have talked to a lot of stakeholders and experts in the field," Deep said.

"The process has given rise to central themes we wish to bring out for discussion, and part of my job was thinking of dramatic scenarios that would illustrate those themes."

Tim Dawson, document developer for CMU's Program for Deliberative Democracy, assisted Deep by giving her feedback and suggestions on the script.

Deep created the model of Deliberative Theater after working with Robert Cavalier on a Deliberative Democracy Fellowship through Phi Beta Kappa.

"This project highlights the interdisciplinary and innovative aspects of Carnegie Mellon. By combining elements from the tradition of theatre with the principles and practices of deliberative democracy, Shannon has broadened the scope of both," said Cavalier, a professor in CMU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"And by working with Tim and his theater company, she has helped our Program for Deliberative Democracy reach a larger audience and break new ground in our ongoing efforts to engage the public in informed conversations about issues that matter to all of us."

The Unseam'd Shakespeare Company produced "Managing Marcellus." It is being performed and recorded on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 from 5 – 8:15 p.m. at WQED-TV's studios in Pittsburgh. 

The event will be televised on WQED in the fall.

Related Links: Playbill [.pdf] | Press release | Deliberative Democracy | One of a Kind | Campus Conversations

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