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Using Participatory Theatre to Elimiate Discrimination Health Art and Justice Centre B Rock University

Theatre to Reduce Discrimination in Healthcare

Lead Researchers

Valerie Michaelson, Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy


In progress

Lead Institutions

Brock University, NYU Steinhardt


Pilot study

In response to increases in health disparities due to the recent pandemic, the UN Research Roadmap for COVID-19 Recovery includes the elimination of discrimination in health systems delivery as a key goal. By initiating a collaboration between dramatic arts and allied health sciences, the project will develop interventions that tackle discrimination, and support the drive for equal healthcare. The project engages healthcare leaders and personnel in examining biases and behaviors that engender health disparities, creating disruptive – then transformative moments that lead to accountability and change.


The project will begin with a qualitative study on diverse lived experiences of discrimination within health systems, paying particular attention to intersections of race, Indigeneity, social class, gender, and age. The stories that healthcare workers and service users tell will inform the development of theatrical scenes that will in turn form the basis of a participatory theatre intervention. Working in collaboration with community partners in New York (USA), St Catharines (Canada), and the Niagara region (Canada) with the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, a culturally rooted intervention will be developed, piloted, revised, and implemented across health systems regionally, nationally, and internationally. 

Finally, the project will involve an evaluation that will enable the researchers to document the impact of the participatory theatre intervention when implemented in clinical settings. The pilot phase launched in August 2023 and the project is estimated to be completed in August 2025.

Insights and Deliverables

A key deliverable for the pilot phase includes a qualitative study across three sites. Here the research team is examining stories that are generously shared by participants who have lived experiences of discrimination due to intersections of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ability status, socio economic circumstances and their housing situation. Two scoping reviews will also be completed during this phase: one on the use of theater interventions to reduce bias, and one on the methodological approaches used to measure changes in bias. The findings of the qualitative study and scoping reviews will inform the research design for the second phase of the project. 

The second stage of the project involves developing a theater workshop that can be used to reduce bias in healthcare delivery, and that is rooted in the stories and experiences of real people. This intervention will then be piloted and evaluated in New York and in the Niagara Region of Canada.

Inclusive Health conference October 2023 Photo NFRF Team

Project Team

The project is co-led by researchers representing the US, Canada, and Indigenous communities (primarily the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Métis territories). The project team consists of researchers and collaborators from universities, health systems, arts organizations, and local communities. Reciprocity, respectful relationships, and community engagement are core to this project’s approach. 

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Support for this project is provided by the New Frontiers in Research Fund.


Dance/Movement Theatre/Performance Children & Youth Adults Older Adults

Research Team

Val bio picture

Valerie Michaelson, DMin

Lead Researcher, Brock University

Sheila Head shot

Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy, PhD

Lead Researcher, Brock University

CH11413440 croppedcolourised

Nisha Sajnani, PhD

Lead Researcher, NYU Steinhardt


Chimerem Amiaka

Brock University

Aliya aragon

Aliya Aragon

Brock University

Margot Francis pic 4905

Margot Francis

Brock University

Nadia Ganesh Vanier Headshot

Nadia Ganesh

Brock University

Ryanne Logan Original

Ryanne Logan

Brock University

Joe N

Joe Norris, PhD

Brock University

P1040362mona sawhney 2

Monakshi Sawhney, PhD

Queen's University

Sherri vansickle

Sherri Vansickle, MEd

Brock University