“The Defamation Experience” is an interactive and riveting new way of understanding the United States legal system through theater. A courtroom drama play, “The Defamation Experience” touches on topics of race, social class, religion and gender. Audience interaction is key throughout this play because the audience acts as the jury.
The play consists of a group of actors who travel around the United States performing the play in front of various audiences to engage people in the discussion of some of the most prominent social issues of today.
Charlie Foster, the assistant vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said “The Defamation Experience” was brought to UNL last year, specifically for law students. This year, the University Diversity and Inclusion staff wants to introduce the play to the general student population on all four University of Nebraska campuses. At UNL, the play will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at noon in the Nebraska Union Centennial Room and on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 3 p.m. in the Hardin Hall Auditorium.
The play is about a woman accused of robbery who then accuses the plaintiff of what she believes to be defamation of character and brings that into court as well. The play focuses on the different perspectives of each role in the court, the plaintiff and the defendant. The audience will hear the story from both sides and will have to judge each person accordingly. Throughout the play, the actors will even walk through the audience and talk to members about their opinions or thoughts on the case so far.
“The whole point is for you to learn from each particular person's point of view, how we as Americans have bias,” Foster said. “And how that may play into some of the decisions that we make.”
Foster explains that having the audience actively participating in the play will not only engage students with the story, but it will also allow them to engage with important hot topics in society today. According to Foster, it is important for the university to give students opportunities to learn about how diversity and inclusion plays a large role in everyday life.
“What my age group did was, we didn't talk about it because it's not polite conversation,” she said. “That ended up leaving us in a situation where people didn't know how to do that well. This gives folks a chance to learn lessons in their everyday life in a way that's not beating them down.”
According to Richard Bischoff, the associate vice chancellor of UNL, the play focuses on the subconscious thoughts, or biases, people have and how they influence their judgments and decisions. Similar to Foster, Bischoff believes discussion is the key to understanding personal biases.
“Having a conversation about it allows one to recognize these are actually influencing our observations and decision-making,” Bischoff said. “[The play] raises awareness, creates insight and, hopefully, it will stimulate more conversation.”
“The Defamation Experience” touches on hot topics, but it provides an environment where the audience feels comfortable discussing their thoughts or points of view. The audience has the chance to develop a better understanding of the law and also engage in a discussion about how our subconscious plays a role in our everyday life.
“It's a wonderful opportunity to learn about the legal system, and at the same time, learn about diversity and inclusion,” Foster said.