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Project uses positive theater to illuminate negative stereotypes

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Elisabeth Davidson had never seen anything like it. But she knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the Illumination Project.

“I went to a play in the spring of 2005 and instantly felt like I wanted to be a part of it,” Davidson said.

Now, Davidson is the assistant program coordinator for the Illumination Project. This program is the college’s innovative student leadership and education project designed to foster a climate of equality, compassion, justice, and respect for all people in the community. The project uses interactive social justice theater as a venue for student educators and audience members to join together to rehearse ways of solving problems.

The group will kick off its winter selection of shows at the Sylvania Campus (12000 S.W. 49th Ave.). Performances will be Thursday, Feb. 15 (11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) and Monday, Feb. 19 (6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.) in the Performing Arts Center lobby; Thursday, Feb 22 (9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) and Monday, Feb 26 (9 to 10:30 a.m.) in the Little Theater; Monday, March 5 (11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), Tuesday, March 6 (1 to 2:30 p.m.), and Wednesday, March 7 (1 to 2:30 p.m.) in the Performing Arts Center lobby.

The group will also perform at the Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W Springville Road) in Washington County. The shows will be from 9 to 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb 21 and Tuesday, March 6 in The Forum of Building 3. All performances are free and locations are wheelchair accessible.

Davidson said that interactive theater, with its capacity to engage diverse learning styles and members of a community, is an ideal way to challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression. In performances audience members enter a scene and dynamically change its outcome. In this way, the Illumination Project challenges the viewpoints of both the audience and the actors in a performance.

“If you have ever been to a movie where it leaves you silent, but thinking, ‘oh wow that was great,’ that’s what the Illumination Project tries to do,” she said. “We want the audience to think it through and have that feeling when they leave. Some leave sad, but many leave thinking, ‘What would I do?’

“We want to show people that every stereotype is negative,” she added.

Davidson, a Beaverton resident who says English is her second language, knows what it’s like to deal with stereotypes. She grew up in Stayton and her family was one of the only Hispanic families in the town. She is working towards her transfer degree at PCC and plans to get her master’s degree in ESOL to help immigrant and refugee communities.

Illumination Project also teaches something to the student educators, which have about 20 students involved. They learn about their subject matter by reading about different aspects of oppression and the new vocabulary used to talk about it. They then form plays based the subject matter, typically a stereotype or an incident of oppression.

“The student educators do some soul searching on how to fit it into their life,” Davidson said. “They break into committees to handle all aspects of production.”

After about six weeks, when the plays are polished, the students make programs, posters, education booklets, and identify resources. Once that is completed the students can start their performances, which are held in PCC classes, campuses, local high schools and churches. In total, the Illumination Project puts on 15 plays a term, lasting five to 10 minutes.

“It is all intended to be a practice for the future,” said Davidson. “We’ve all been in these situations and the plays help you get a little practice on how to deal with them in advance.”

For more information, visit,, or call Jeannie LaFrance, Illumination Project coordinator, at 503-977-8149.

Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 88,200 full- and part-time students. For more PCC news, please visit us on the Web at PCC has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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