Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Colvin, Carolyn

First Committee Member

Boldt, Gail M.

Second Committee Member

McGuire, Steve

Third Committee Member

Munoz, Kristine L.

Fourth Committee Member

Thein, Amanda H.


If not ignored completely, the body has been under theorized in literacy research. However, recent research in cultural studies, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, education, and the arts suggests that the body is implicated in thinking and knowing as well as doing. In this dissertation I examine high school technical theater. In this robustly embodied activity students build sets, rig lights, and paint backdrops in preparation for a theatrical production, as well as run sound and lighting and perform scene changes during the production. I use data from high school technical theater to explore the body in literacy, embodied learning, collaboration, composition processes, and experiential learning.

I gathered data primarily during out of school work sessions over the multi-week production cycles of six plays produced at one high school over two school years. As an experienced theater technician, I used participant observation as the primary method of data collection, supplemented with semi-structured interviews with the technical director, artistic director, and four students. I collected data and analyzed data through iterative processes in which analysis began during data collection, emerging analyses influenced data collection, and constant comparisons to new data influenced emerging analyses.

Observations of student work revealed that student theater technicians employed literacy skills including speaking, reading, writing, drawing, calculating, and interpreting the written text of plays as necessary elements of the normal course of technical theater work. Observations of teaching and learning showed that little explicit instruction was used but that mini-lessons, individual and collective problem solving, and multiple configurations of collaboration among more and less experienced technicians led to the development of critical thinking and physical skills, as well as proficiency in the creation of props through the evaluation and application of building techniques and materials.

I used theories from art making and multimodal literacy to examine technical theater building projects as examples of composition. My findings show that the design of technical theater texts - e.g. props, scenery, lighting - emerges through a recursive process of creation and interpretation and is mediated by the technicians' knowledge of building techniques and materials. Situated learning and activity theory were used to analyze learning in the technical theater community. Results demonstrate that the structure of the community allows for learning through experience, apprenticeship, and collaboration as well as through the creation of texts that balance personal expression with collaborative enterprise.


Activity Theory, Community of Practice, Composition, Embodied Learning, Multimodal Literacy, Technical Theater


xiii, 354 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 339-354).


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Copyright © 2013 Alex Hoobie Schott