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Wikidemia: Drama Students Write Digital Articles for Neglected Works

Anthony Zambito's Wikipedia entry for Blue-Eyed Black Boy by Georgia Douglas Johnson. 

Fifty students in Magda Romanska’s World Drama class have contributed Wikipedia entries for underrepresented playwrights and plays, ditching the traditional research paper to engage in some digital advocacy and activism.

The World Drama class is a required course for all Performing Arts sophomores. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with different theatrical traditions, from Greek drama to Chinese opera, from Shakespeare to postcolonial drama. The course requires students to absorb multiple concepts and read and critically analyze theatrical works from various cultures and time periods.

This year, students in the class decided to contribute Wikipedia entries on plays and playwrights that have been previously neglected by or have been unknown to Western audiences.

“We know that Wikipedia is a major knowledge resource for the general public, yet the scope of what it covers is very limited,” said Romanska, associate professor of theater studies and dramaturgy. “For example, although 14 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, only 3 percent of Wikipedia entries originate from there.

“In our field, it is increasingly important to engage in global outreach and to research, teach, produce, and know works outside of our own culture,” she said.

Romanska said the project has given students the opportunity to contribute to a body of knowledge in their field, as well as gain digital skills that empower them to be change agents. In the week that the pages have been live, the student entries have received more than 12,000 visits, she said.

Subjects of new entries created by Romanska’s students include African American playwrights such as Adrienne Kennedy, Gloria Douglas Johnson, Boston native Marita Bonner, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Willis Richardson, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (whose play An Octoroon was staged by ArtsEmerson in January); Latino American playwrights José Rivera, Octavio Solis, and René Marqués; and Asian American playwright Wakako Yamauchi. Students wrote about gay and lesbian playwrights, such as David Drake, Holly Hughes, and Taylor Mac, and playwrights who address disability, such as John Belluso and Mike Lew.

The students also focused on global diversity, writing about Nobel Prize-winning Chinese playwright Gao Xingjian; Argentinian playwright Griselda Gambaro; British-Pakistani writer/playwright Hanif Kureishi; Nigerian playwrights Zulu Sofoloa, the first published African woman playwright, and Femi Osofisan; French feminist writer, philosopher, and playwright Simone de Beauvoir; Dorota Maslowska from Poland; and British feminist playwright Caryl Churchill.

Some students wrote entries on broader topics, such as “The Latino Theatre in the U.S.”

Krystyna Resavy, who wrote an entry on “Theatre and Disability,” said her goal was to provide readers with a “well-rounded article,” which she spent hours researching.

“I really appreciated that there were no boundaries for this project, as we had the privilege and responsibility to present the information that we found necessary and interesting,” Resavy said.

The Wikipedia Education Program is an expansion of the Public Policy Initiative. In 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation received a grant to pilot a small university program. From that program, Wikipedia developed a program to help faculty who want to use Wikipedia in their classrooms. Romanska’s students worked with experienced Wikipedia editors, who helped them with technical issues, including formatting and coding their articles.

“I found it intellectually stimulating and inspiring to be able to do a research assignment with not only some creative aspect involved (designing my webpage), but a cultural contribution to the Internet for everybody to be able to benefit from afterward,” said Anthony Zambito, who wrote an entry on Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Blue-Eyed Black Boy. “This assignment can be beneficial to anybody, as opposed to a research paper in which the knowledge isn’t shared.”

Entries written by the World Drama class include: Simone deBeauvoir's Who Shall Die? (Sophia Shapiro), Marita Bonner's The Purple Flower (Rachel Lockett), Bonner's The Pot-Maker (Daniel Klingenstein), Bonner's Exit, an Illusion (Ashley Dixon), Georgia Douglas Johnson's Plumes (Lauren Squier), Johnson's Blue-Eyed Black Boy (Anthony Zambito), Johnson's And Yet They Paused (Darian Clogston), Johnson's Songs of the Harlem River (Nick Sparks), Johnson's A Sunday Morning in the South (Lulu Connolly), “Forgotten One-Acts of the Harlem Renaissance” (Jacob Smerechniak), Alice Dunbar Nelson's Mine Eyes Have Seen (Rachel Hunsinger), Willis Richardson's The Chip Woman's Fortune (Abby Arora), “Brecht and Women” (Jamie Rosenfeld), Gao Xingjian's The Bus Stop (Daniel Griggi), Osvaldo Dragun's The Story of the Man Turned into a Dog (Madison St. Amour), Adrienne Kennedy's A Rat's Mass (Kate Hausler), Kennedy's A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (Megan Mistretta), Kennedy's The Owl Answers (Zach Holden), Kennedy's Black Children's Day (Zack Autieri), “El Círculo Dramatico (The Drama Circuit)” (Alexis Ellis-Alvarez), Octavio Solis' Se Llama Cristina (Aaron Drill), Solis' Lydia (Willow Lautenberg), René Marqués' El Hombre y Sus Sueños (Lissette Velez-Cross), José Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (Dylan Dagenais), Rivera's Sonnets for an Old Century (María del Mar Fernández González), Caryl Churchill's Love and Information (Katharine Johnson), Holly Hughes' Dress Suits to Hire (Aaron Kenigsberg), David Drake's The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me (Kenzy Peach), Zulu Sofola's Wedlock of Gods (Alex Richardson), Gabriela Zapolska's The Morality of Mrs. Dulska (Sallie Bieterman), Dorota Maslowska's A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians (Jon Wyand), Griselda Gambaro's Antigona Furiosa (Lindsey Young), Gambaro's Information for Foreigners (Connor O'Leary), Gambaro's The Camp (Trent Brunngraber), Wakako Yamauchi's And the Soul Shall Dance (Adam Settlage), Hanif Kureishi's The Black Album (Amelia St. John), Bola Agbaje's Belong (Ryan McDonald), Femi Osofisan's Morountodun (Olivia Viola), Mike Lew's Teenage Dick (Madolyn Friedman), John Belluso's The Rules of Charity (Madeline Addis), Belluso's A Nervous Smile (Samantha Landau), “Theatre and Disability” (Krystyna Resavy), “Latino Theatre in the U.S.” (Andrew Alcaraz), Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Plays (Anneliese Ryan), Branden Jacob-Jenkins' An Octoroon (Travis Amiel), Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge (Victoria Brancazio), Jinghui, Meng; Jingang, Huang; Xiaoli, Wang and Hang, Sh's I love XXX (Marta Sarrion Arrue), Tina Howe's Birth After Birth (Caitlyn Davis), Richard Foreman's Rhonda in Potatoland (Salwa Abuljadayel)

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