Reuniting Form and Content: Generating, Mediating, and Disseminating Social Science Research and Arts-based Performance Genres through Digital Media

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This website was funded by the 2011 competition of the

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant


The Humanities Research Institute,

Brock University

Scroll down for a list of arts-based performances. Click on the images to be directed to those that have research videos.

To obtain reproduction and/or performance rights please contact Joe directly.

Playbuilding as Qualitative Research

Click on book cover to view scenes.


This book is for both art-based researchers and research-informed artists, exploring the theatrical genre known as Collective Creation, or Playbuilding. Performers generate data around chosen topics from addiction and sexuality to qualitative research by compiling scenes from their disparate voices. Audience members become involved in the investigation, and the performed scenes do not end the conversation but challenge and extend it. Through discussion and audience participation, the process examines how knowledge is defined and how data is mediated.

Chapter 1 provides a rationale for playbuilding as a qualitative research genre; Chapter 2 describes the research methodology and Chapter 3 provides the history of Mirror Theatre in Alberta over a 10 year period. Chapters 4 through 14 are scripts from performances with both a thematic and theatrical analysis. Chapter 15 concludes the book with a discuss of how the ‘joker’ may facilitate audience discussion. By clicking on the book cover, you will be take to a page with the scenes performed.

The book, Playbuilding, “not only met all the criteria for the [2011, Qualitative Research SIG, AERA] Outstanding Book Award, it exceeded every criteria. Norris bridges arts-based research, qualitative research, and playbuilding grounded in rich theories and create dialogue for various social justice issues. The committee members exclaimed not only about the accessibility, utility of this book, but the ways in which this book challenged our thinking, made us imagine how the audience participation might look like at the end of the scenes and the fertile ground for much needed dialoguing…. Congratulations Joe”   Qualitative Research SIG, American Educational Research Association

 For more information about Playbuilding as Qualitative Research: A Participatory Arts-based Approach go to:



Mental Health

Jen Door


Topic: Mental Health on Campus
March, 2015
Student Health Services, Brock University
Student Health Services requested that Mirror Theatre devise a series of issues surrounding mental health.  Just like the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”, we explored how we all take ‘response ability’.


Topic: Academic Integrity with ESL Students
November, 2014
Student Health Services, Brock University
ESL Services requested that Mirror Theatre devise a service of vignettes that could be used to discuss academic integrity issues with their students.
 Montage copyDrinking ChoicesTopic: Drinking on Campus
Date: March, 2013
Venue: Student Health Services, Brock University
Student Health Services requested that Mirror Theatre devise two stories (That’s Not Me & It’s Just a Game?) about drinking on campus to be used in their workshops that discuss a variety of social factors that can contribute to alcohol abuse and the many negative consequences that could occur. Rather than providing answers, a series of discussion starters are used to enable participants to process some of the issues as they discuss the realistic cases.

Beyond the Masks

Beyond The Masks Cover

Topic: Inclusion
October, 2013

Kennesaw State University
Over a one week period seven faculty members from Kennesaw State University under the direction of Joe Norris devised this performance based upon their wealth of expertise and experience with issues of inclusion and social justice. They will use these vignettes and footage of rehearsals for educational and research purposes.

ReThinking Research Entry through RePlaying

Topic: Research Entry
November, 2013
James Madison University
Over a one week period five faculty members from James Madison University under the direction of Joe Norris used of version of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre to explore the complexity of obtaining entry into a school. Rather than performing the vignettes in sequence, this session stopped after each scene for discussion and workshopping. The audience members signed consent forms that were approved by James Madison University’s Institutional Review Board and is in keeping with Canada’s Tri-council Guidelines as verified by Brock University’s Research Ethics Board.

Community Development

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Topic: Community Development
March, 2013
Brock University
In designing her online course in community development, Mary Saudelli,  Brock University, requested that Joe Norris’ 2012/13 class, Social Issues Theatre for Community Development examine the issues found in their text, Brown, J. D., & Hannis, D. (2012). Community development in Canada. Toronto: Pearson.
Under her guidance scenes were creates for online discussions regarding the different ideologies at play when people gather to make decisions.

Telephone Tags

Telephone Tags

Topic: Social Work
March, 2013
Niagara Research and Planning Council
Based upon the reputation of Mirror Theatre the Niagara Research and Planning Council requested a video to stimulate a conversation about the live-experiences of social workers and those whom they serve. They provided a rough script  and the cast improvised scenes based upon their suggestions. Loosely titled, ‘Telephone Tags’ the three vignettes, devised for video, portray various difficulties of phone-to-phone communications.

4.321: You be the Judge


Topic: Judging/Assessing/Grading
March, 2012
Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, Brock University
Assessment is a pervasive activity in our daily lives. But like the air we breathe, it almost goes unnoticed. 4.321: You be the Judge provides a small portrait of the  interpersonal dimensions of assessment exploring how our species has a propensity to judge and compare one another. Such acts can include/exclude, demean/affirm and exalt/harm and must be continually questioned to insure justice and equity.  The cast has researched many aspects of this behemoth and has compiled a collage of vignettes to begin to describe how this behavior is played out in both formally and informally in all that we do?
          We ask, Why do we judge/assess? Are all assessments necessary, appropriate and/or fair? What are legitimate criteria? Can one separate the product for the producer, the intellect from the affect? Can and how should accommodations be made and for what reasons? How does assessment foster and/or impede learning?
          The vignettes provide just a few of the many lived-experiences of how we live under the specter of the judge and how we play the role of the judge. They don’t provide you with answers. Rather, we hope that they haunt you, encouraging you to examine how we can put a human face to these practices. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface… so we ask, “you be the judge”.
          Audience responses after the performance workshop included: “that was a great awakening” and “it really opened my eyes”.

Common Knowledge

Topic: Academic Integrity
Date: November 2011
Venue: International Centre for Academic Integrity Conference
Date: February, 2012
Venue: Centre for Pedagogical Innovation – Teaching Assistants  Workshop
Description: What leads people to cheat? What personal, interpersonal and systemic factors are at play? Based upon personal and external research, Common Knowledge provides a variety of examples of how academic integrity issues are play out on campus.  Confusion abounds as first year students are expected to quickly learn a lot of insider knowledge that is common place to those well versed in the academic culture. Determining what is common knowledge, how to cite, and generally learning the system are the easy(?) technical issues to navigate. The decisions to plagiarize, hire ghost writers, and cheat during exams, among others,  are underpinned by issues of fairness, integrity, authenticity and justice.
          The above are just a few of the themes the have emerged that are embedded in the performed vignettes . The scenes examine moments of decision, dealing with the consequences and the effects on others beyond self.  The larger underlying question is, “What can educational institutions do to create learning environments in which all parties move beyond the mechanics of assessment and accreditation to the intrinsic and altruistic purposes of learning for the betterment of self an others?” We also ask,  “Whose responsibility is it?” and challenge audiences and our selves to find ways to move away from an “I/It teaching/learning relationship to an I/Thou one (Buber, 1987) in which all parties act with integrity toward one another.

Ball and Chain

Topic: Mental Health in the Workplace
November, 2011 and April 2012
Venues: Brock Supervisors’ Fall Training Conference and Niagara Healthy Living.

Description: Ball and Chain was devised at the request of Brock University’s Joint Health and Safety Committee based upon the positive response from other work done for them and an expressed need for this topic by some in attendance. Joe Norris’ 2011/12 class, Theatre in Education: Theatre for a Community,  accepted the commission. the vignettes examine the stigmas associated with mental health issues and resistances to discuss them.  Niagara Healthy Living then requested a performance workshop on healthy eating. It was presented as, Reasons… Not, however, due to technical difficulties, it was not recorded.



Topic: Violence in the Workplace (Ontario Bill 168)
Date: November, 2011
Venue: Professional Development for the Employment Help Centre (Beamsville)
Description: To devise this commissioned piece Joe met with staff of the Employment Help Centre (Beamsville) and collected a set of scenarios and issues experienced by workers, volunteers and clients who interacted at the centre. Misunderstandings regarding the function of the centre, frustrations in being unemployed, misuse of computer stations, confronting inappropriate behaviors could all lead to escatations putting individuals at risk of being hurt by others. In the workshopping of scenes, strategies to deescalate potential interpersonal problems were explored.


Topic: Power in Professor/Teaching Assistant/Student Relationship
Date: April, 2011
Venue: Brock Annual Symposium on Academic Risk
Date: September 2011
Venue: Centre for Pedagogical Innovation – Teaching Assistants  Workshop
Description: Based upon the feedback received on their program What Lies Beneath, a new program was devised for those in supervisory roles. ‘Dis’Positions examinesda variety of interpersonal academic situations in which individuals could demean, ridicule, neglect, disregard, exclude and generally, abuse & misuse their personal and professional power. By identifying some of the potential factors that can contribute violence in our work/study environments we explored how we might enact the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy and reduce these and other risks that are: “likely to undermine the dignity, self-esteem or productivity of any of its members and prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment whether it occurs on University property or in conjunction with University-related activities. Therefore, Brock University is committed to an inclusive and respectful work and learning environment, free from: Human rights discrimination or harassment; Sexual harassment; and Personal harassment, psychological harassment and bullying.

What Lies Beneath

Topic: Violence on Campus (Ontario Bill 168)
Date: November 2010
Venue: R.A.M.P. it up for Safety” Supervisors’ Conference, Brock University
Description: What irritates us?  What low grade daily experiences tick us off? What encounters do we have with people that potentially lead to conflict? What Lies Beneath examined a number of these including parking lot tensions,library fines, chain of command/pecking order, gossip, pub rivalries, wait times and the importance of letting go.



Topic: Prolife/Prochoice Conflicts
Date: January, 2010
Venue: Brock Center for Woman’s Studies
Description: (Re)Productions examines a variety of issues regarding reproductive rights. Using a game show format, the vignettes provide theses and antitheses with contentious subject. Scenes examine decision making, pressures from a variety of sources, parenting, adoption and partnerships to name a few. The double entendre  of ‘reproductions’ is intentional. An chapter on this performance (including script) can be found in: Norris, J., & Theatre, M. (2012). (Re)Productions. In S. C. Bingham (Ed.), The art of social critique: Painting mirrors of social life (pp. 292-301). Lantham MD: Lexington Books.