Will Weigler (PhD’11)

Will Weigler arrived at UVic in 2006 and left in 2012 with a PhD in Applied Theatre.

He came as an experienced director, playwright, producer and author of the book Strategies for Playbuilding: Helping Groups Translate Issues into Theatre, which won the 2002 Distinguished Book Award for outstanding contribution to the field from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. This text was one of the first resources to offer non-professional theatre ensembles both theory and practical techniques for collaboratively developing plays about their personal and cultural issues.

For his doctoral dissertation, Engaging the Power of the Theatrical Event, he continued to redefine what it means for theatre artists to “give voice” to community members.  His work is a collaboration with community groups to co-create original plays with them, about the issues that they feel affect their lives. These plays are often performed by the participants themselves, using theatre to give audiences some insights into the performers’ cultural perspectives and experiences.

His PhD research encompassed hundreds of different stories about people’s most unforgettable experiences at the theatre – moments on stage that people described as making them suddenly and unexpectedly shift their understanding of what they thought they knew. He called these “ah-ha!” moments. By analyzing what was happening in each of these stories, he was able to deduce a practical theory about what made the staging so remarkable.

“When I compared and contrasted what was happening on stage in all the descriptions in my study, I discovered that even though the plays were very different, there were clearly identifiable patterns in the staging .” 

Five distinct categories of staging choices emerged from this research, each with six to ten variations that he identified with terms like going off the rails, the destabilized body, and affective punch.Weigler shows how the way the play was staged helped audiences to engage with the stories they were seeing in a fresh new way.  

In the summer of 2013, Weigler developed the From the Heart: Enter the Journey of Reconciliation project in Victoria. More than a conventional play, From the Heart is a immersive performance experience where small groups of audience members wend their way through a beautiful indoor labyrinth of passageways with doors and windows, alcoves, chambers, rooms and nooks. All along their journey audiences encounter small performances and stories that have moved non-Indigenous people to see their relationships with their Aboriginal neighbours in new ways. The concepts of the project was inspired by Paulette Regan’s bestselling book, Unsettling the Settler Within. Will used his PhD research to help the non-professional participants/actors turn their personal insights and epiphanies into powerful and evocative performance pieces for the labyrinth.
Applied Theatre educates students in the use of drama skills for the purposes of teaching, bringing about social change and building a sense of community, all of which Will has exercised in From the Heart.

Website: From the Heart


 Photo Credit: Alt. Theatre Magazine