US vs THEM

Challenge students to value diversity and equity

  • Artist Residency
  • Grades 7-12
  • 10 Sessions x 50 Minutes
  • Up to 30 Students
  • 1500

Republicans and Democrats bash each other in public. Communities wrestle with issues of racial justice. Kids see the smallest differences between their peers as excuses to mock them. Nobody seems to care about the other person’s perspective — or even their humanity — as our culture faces a pandemic of misunderstanding and disrespect.

But what if we made an honest effort to listen to the distinct viewpoints and experiences of the people around us, from the guy in the Trump t-shirt to the kid with the learning difference? This artist residency empowers students to walk in the shoes of people who are different from them using the toolbox of theatre:

  • Improvisation
  • Role-Playing
  • Public Speaking
  • Character Creation
  • Storytelling
  • Playwriting


US vs. THEM is a perspective-taking program that can be presented in one week (five sessions) or two weeks (10 sessions), depending on the number of activities and how deeply we dive into them. In a 10-session program, the first class focuses on self-understanding and introduces some of the dramatic tools we'll use throughout. The next four sessions will build understanding for people whose appearance, beliefs, or culture lies outside of the mainstream. The last five sessions will guide students through the process of writing a dramatic monologue from the perspective of a person different from themselves.

1. Getting Inside My Head

Why do we have a hard time moving on from setbacks in our lives, whether they’re bad habits or major failures? Often, it’s because of the way we talk to ourselves about the event: "There’s no point in trying again; I’m a failure." We’re harsher to ourselves than any friend (or maybe even enemy) would be. However, until we intentionally tune into our inner monologues, we may not consciously realize our own thoughts! Before we work on understanding others, this workshop builds self-understanding with role-playing activities drawn from the world of sociodrama.

2. Interviewing the Outcast

Social norms are a big deal, especially for teenagers. The rules aren’t written down, but woe to the person who breaks them! Violators may be labeled as weird and annoying, or ignored as outcasts. We'll ask students to identify social sins they’ve seen peers commit, from not wearing deodorant to asking a million questions in class. Then we’ll ask each student to choose one “sin” they find particularly annoying. Their job is to get inside the head of someone who disobeys that social norm and figure out why it happens. Can they understand how the "outcast" might actually feel when they're interviewed by a peer?

3. The Great Debate

Students will brainstorm an assortment of things that people might disagree about in everyday life -- say, whether a teen should lose her phone over grades. Then we’ll match those conflicts with characters (in this example, perhaps a teen guy and his mom). We’ll break the students into small groups and have each group choose a conflict, then assign roles. Each character will draft a few bullet points to use in arguing their positions. But before the improvised confrontation begins, we’re going to flip the script! The student who’s been preparing to argue the teen girl’s case will have to argue as the mom, and vice versa. Do the students understand each other well enough take the opposing viewpoint?

4. Alien Invasion

What would happen if space aliens arrived on earth as refugees and tried to integrate into American society? We’ll use this fictional scenario to explore ways that we, as humans, are tempted to regard members of other identity groups as inferior to ourselves. This session draws on the insights of the Milgram social psychology experiment about disregard for others’ humanity. In our in-class "experiment," students will have to decide how to treat the aliens. Will they regard them as fellow intelligent beings, or as less valuable than humans?

5. Not Quite Human

Session 5 takes the lessons we learned in session 4 about "aliens" and applies them to real life. We’ll begin by brainstorming qualities that make people look down on a minority group, from sexual preference to skin color to body type. We’ll ask students to “rate” people who have these qualities, based on how they believe other students their age might think, using a scale like the one developed by psychologist Nour Kteily. Then we’ll set up improvisational situations in which a person from a particular identity group (say, a female who wants to play football on the school team) is treated differently from others. What is the person who’s discriminating against her thinking and feeling? What is the girl football player thinking and feeling?

6. A Story to Tell

Sessions 6 and 7 will empower students with basic writing techniques and at least two different “story seeds” that they can use to develop a short play that will represent the culmination of our workshop. We’ll begin by introducing the five fundamental parts of a story: Exposition, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, Climax, and Denouement. We’ll involve everyone in practicing these story parts in a group storytelling activity. Now, we’ll ask students to pick one of the identifiable groups we’ve discussed during the sessions (like a person with a disability or a person of a different race). The goal is to synopsize a story (in writing) starring a person from that group. How does their humanity transcends superficial differences?

7. Keeping It Real

Students will come to class today with a description of a real person that they observed last night. The person should belong to at least one identity group that the student does not. (For example, a female Asian teen might observe an elderly Black male. He belongs to at least three identity groups that she does not based on their genders, races/ ethnicities, and ages.) Now, we’re going to develop the observed person into a fictional character. Students will pair up to answer a series of questions that develop a detailed biography for them. What does it feel like to walk in this person's shoes?

8. The Whole Story, Part A

Students will choose one of the stories they’ve developed in the last two classes. Their mission during Sessions 8 and 9 is to turn it into a play (a) that’s three minutes or less with (b) one or two characters and (c) no more than two scenes. Students will have most of the sessions to write, with the teaching artist circulating to read script segments and offer coaching. Towards the end of each session, we’ll have the students divide into pairs to share portions of their scripts and offer brief peer critiques.

9. The Whole Story, Part B

Continued from Session 8.

10. Bringing the Story to Life

Our final session will be dedicated to showcasing the students’ finished plays. If possible, we’ll invite students’ family members and adult members of the school community (like administrators) to watch the students present their work. Students who wrote a monologue will read their own scripts. Students who wrote a dialogue will read their scripts with the help of a partner. After allowing as many students as possible to perform, we’ll ask some of them to share briefly what they learned about taking the perspectives of people different from themselves.

$250 is the cost for a single workshop. If you schedule all 10 workshops at the same school during the same academic year, you'll receive a discount, which means you pay only the cost above.

Help your students recognize the common humanity that transcends our differences!

Prices are subject to change. A travel charge applies for destinations outside of a 20-mile radius from our office near downtown Louisville.