What IF the power of a live theatrical performance can help students become more ethical, well rounded leaders?

200 years after it was written, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein serves as an incredibly relevant tool to discuss questions of ethics, scientific responsibility, and human creativity. Frankenstein wrestles with fundamental questions of innovation: “Just because we can do it, should we?” and “If we succeed, what now?” Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s creation of an artificial human yields extraordinary and terrifying results with a host of unintended consequences for creature, creator, and society. Discussions on campus surrounding the novel will be deepened based on performances of Frankenstein by the Aquila Theatre Company.

Amanda Mayes, Purdue Convocations manager of education; Melinda Zook, professor of history and director of Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts; and Amy David, clinical assistant professor of management, will conduct two research studies aimed at understanding the impact of these live performances of Frankenstein. They ask: what if the power of a live theatrical performance can help students become more ethical, well-rounded future leaders?

As science continues to advance and we make giant leaps in our control over our own health and longevity, ethical dilemmas will continue to arise. Preliminary research suggests that the arts can be a tool for teaching ethical decision-making. However, the literature remains nascent, with few controlled studies and little on the performing arts.

Approximately 150 students from Krannert School of Management and 300 students from Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts are taking part in this groundbreaking research project. This research fits into a continuing line of inquiry for Mayes. “I have witnessed the power of live theatrical performances. This study is part of a much larger research agenda aimed at understanding the broad academic and intrinsic benefits of involvement with the arts.” For students in the Krannert School of Management, David believes, “exposure to the arts helps students understand the human impact of their decisions, in business contexts among others.” And for students in Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts, this line of inquiry fits into the mission to introduce students to transformative texts that have influenced our understanding of the modern world. Zook states, “Frankenstein is about the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions, about the sagacity of great books, and the value of broad-mindedness.”

Mayes hopes the pilot studies conducted in conjunction with the performance of Frankenstein begins to build the case for further curricular integration of performances on campus. Her work over the past two years has shown live performances can improve elementary students writing skills and their understanding of the storyline and vocabulary used in books. “My goal is to see involvement in the arts become a hallmark of a Purdue education. Science and engineering teach us the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the world, but the humanities and social sciences, theatre included, help us answer the ‘why’ questions. Frankenstein is the perfect marriage of the sciences and humanities and can give our students insight in how all fields must work together to solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

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