Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Community-Based Theater and Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities: An Investigation of Individual and Group Development, Social Activism, and Community Integration

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catherine Stein, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Kenneth Pargament, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Jennifer Gillespie, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Peterann Siehl, PhD (Committee Member)


The present study is a qualitative inquiry focused on understanding community-based theater involving people living with psychiatric disabilities through the narratives of the troupe members and directors. The study uses a grounded theory case study design to investigate The Stars of Light theater troupe in Rockford, Illinois. The research specifically explores the developmental processes of the troupe and its members, social activism, and critical characteristics of the theatrical form. The project addresses individual, setting/group, and community levels of analysis using semi-structured interviews, a focus group, and archival/performance data. Emergent themes were analyzed through a hierarchical coding process that ultimately generated 18 theoretical constructs across the three primary domains of interest (developmental processes, social activism, and characteristics of theater). Findings indicate that individual, setting, and organizational characteristics interact with one another in a variety of ways, including 1) troupe flexibility enhances sustainability and personal growth, 2)personal gains from involvement are carried forward into other life settings outside the troupe,and 3) troupe activities impact the wider community in several ways beyond direct audience contact. Results also revealed emergent constructs related to the identity development of consumer participants, setting dynamics and trajectories, and theater as a means of aiding in the recovery process. These constructs are discussed in relation to previous research and theory related to recovery, identity and serious mental illness (SMI), consumer-driven programs, and arts initiatives. Specific recommendations are presented for mental health settings, theater settings, and activist organizations; study limitations and suggestions for future inquiry are also discussed.