New director of Interactive Theatre Carolina brings group talents, goals

Company focus on social issues

Amy Burtaine’s acting career blossomed in a circus.

It was there, along the Amazon River in Pará, Brazil, that Burtaine discovered the power of interactive theater.

She now serves the newly appointed director of UNC’s Interactive Theatre Carolina program, which operates as part of the Campus Health Service’s Counseling and Wellness office. The program uses acting to illuminate social issues on campus.

The group acts out scenes to address topics such as discrimination and sexual violence.

After each performance, the audience is encouraged to ask questions of the actors — who remain in character — about the play’s events.

Burtaine replaced Interactive Theatre Carolina’s previous director and founder, Ben Saypol, who unexpectedly left the group at the start of the summer to pursue new opportunities, members said.

Graduate student John Reitz served as the group’s interim director until Burtaine took over last week.

“I tried to be a contact for other people so that ITC could remain a staple in the Carolina community,” Reitz said.

Members rehearsed with Burtaine for the second time on Monday evening. They worked on communicating ideas through images.

Burtaine asked her actors to embody their interpretation of a word. Everyone closed their eyes, and then was instructed to be or depict whatever Burtaine said — American, Facebook, relationship.

“It’s hard,” said sophomore Cornell Jordan, an Interactive Theatre Carolina member. “But I like a challenge.”

Burtaine said she hopes not only to teach theater exercises to the members of Interactive Theatre Carolina, but to show them how to teach others.

Throughout the rehearsal, Burtaine offered advice on using image visualization to become more expressive and courageous.

The University’s progressive and relevant interactive theater concept impresses Burtaine, she said.

“It puts the audience in a safe space where they can ask what they would do in these situations.

“It’s a rehearsal for life,” she said.

Working with the Peace Corps in West Africa, Burtaine said she applied her experience with interactive theater to address issues such as health care and HIV/AIDS.

She returned to Brazil on a grant she received after she graduated from Brown University.

“The work I did there was called ‘Theatre of the Oppressed,’” Burtaine said.

“I got really excited about it, because that was the type of theater that spoke to me.”

Prior to her arrival at UNC, Burtaine traveled around the country visiting prisons and mental health clinics, where she performed and addressed various social justice issues.

Burtaine said she has made interactive theater her vehicle to introduce controversial and pertinent topics to her audiences.

Her actors at Interactive Theatre Carolina have embraced her mission, they said.

“It’s art with a purpose,” agreed member Andrew Heil. “I’m not really into just art for art’s sake.”

Contact the Arts Editor at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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