The Theatre of War: Leader Development in the Liminal Zone
Updated: Jun 15
The uniqueness of the present article is an embodied rethinking of leadership training by means of artistic experiences. The leadership course we describe and analyse addresses the need of preparing military leaders to the complexity and volatility of their work-tasks. Originally, this leadership programme was designed as a 9-week stage production, concluded by a public performance at the city theatre. By means of facilitated character-building and text-production to which educators and one professional actor contributed to, the participants reported transformative learning outcomes, identity-building and transfer to work-related areas. This case is telling of the potential of theatre as bridge-builder in management education (Chemi, Kawamura, Pässilä & Owens 2020). We show that theatre in leadership training is not only problem solving and coping with not-knowing (Darsø 2004), but also a whole different way of knowing, which is embodied, sensory and relational. Participants learn differently different topics about themselves, their colleagues, their workplace and profession, about leadership and emotions.
The aim of this study was to develop new knowledge about theatre as a form of and platform for learning in leadership development, to enable leaders to better manage unforeseen situations. We asked: How is theatre perceived as learning in leadership development?
The context for our study was Leadership training the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy, where a group of 14 leaders was given the assignment The Theatre of War: Plan and perform a five-act performance for an audience of 50 people at the City Theatre.
Eight in-depth interviews were conducted. From the data analyses, five categories were developed.
Categorization, gathering information about the same theme within its respective category (Charmaz 2006), the following themes were developed:
Mission into the Liminal Zone
Authenticity between reality and make-believe
Authentic emotions in dramaturgical form
The art of being naked
Reaching into group affection.
Our research shows how theatre is perceived as learning in leadership development, spanning from the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety to the experience of community, holistic identity, empathy towards the other and self, and transformative learning.
Kristian Firing, Rannveig Björk Thorkelsdóttir & Tatiana Chemi
Link to the article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14759551.2022.2028146