PTO Board


Members at Large

Board Bios

Smiling Leigh 2012 squareS. Leigh Thompson, President, is a social justice artist, a critical educator and a raging queer and has spent his adult life working for political and social justice, especially within the queer and trans* communities. He has a BA in Theatre Direction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and an individualized MA from Gallatin at NYU, focusing on utilizing Theatre of the Oppressed for political and social change. Leigh is the President of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc. and has been a member since 2001. He is the Co-founder of The Forum Project and provides creative and critical workshop facilitation in NYC. Learn more about his work at He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

CharlesCharles Adams, Treasurer, has his PhD in Theatre Historiography from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in drama and theatre for youth from the University of Texas at Austin. His research is in areas of theatre and social change, especially in the fields of Theatre in Education, critical pedagogies, and transformation. He has worked as a teaching artist for 15 years, training novice teaching artists as well as teaching educators in methodologies and philosophies for using embodiment as a means of resisting dehumanizing modes of education.

Jamilah Bradshaw-Dieng
Jamilah Bradshaw-Dieng, Oakland, California, is a social practice artist and grantmaker. She has been in the field of health and social justice since high school, starting as a poet and youth organizer. She enjoys examining the links between Theatre of the Oppressed and Womanist/Black Feminist Performance and re-rooting Boal’s work in the Black Brazilian Movement and Teatro Experimental Negro. She’s most interested in using applied theatre to elucidate pleasure as a site of decolonization, in order to deconstruct the root cause(s) of oppression and to imagine freer subjectivities in global movements towards community health.

She created her own major in Black Diaspora Studies at Mills College and studied Psychology with a focus on Community Mental Health at California Institute of Integral Studies. She was an inaugural Health Equity Fellow with the Greenlining Institute and The California Endowment. Her publications include Building the We: Healing-Informed Governing for Racial Equity in Salinas (Race Forward, 2016) and Healing the Hurt: Promising Community Programs and Policy Recommendations (Children’s Defense Fund-CA, 2015). Granddaughter of Louisiana and Texas migrants who have lived in Oakland since the 1950s, she is also a yoga teacher and certified massage therapist.

As a Program Associate at The California Endowment, she provides support to the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Initiative, a $1-billion public health effort that invests in the capacity of communities of color to build power to change systems. She is a member of the Actual TO Troupe, ODSC Consultants, Black Women Birthing Justice, Selection Dialaw CAADA based in Senegal, a former board member at the East Bay Meditation Center, and presents and leads workshops at conferences, festivals, and college campuses around the world.

Katherine BurkeKatherine Burke is a multidisciplinary artist, teacher, and activist.  Her work in health humanities at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine engages Cleveland residents, medical students, health care workers, and physicians in an ongoing examination of health and well-being. As the directing and devising force behind the acclaimed verbatim play May 4th Voices, she brought to life the oral histories of witnesses to the 1970 shootings at Kent State University. Burke is an activist who uses Theatre of the Oppressed and other arts-based techniques to foster dialogue and inspire action, and has taught and implemented applied theatre for social change methods nationally and internationally. 

11217937_10101151073970344_4486604952935758413_oKelly Howe is an activist, teacher, artist, writer, and dialogue facilitator based in Oak Park, Illinois. She is a member of the theatre faculty at North Central College, where she also serves as the coordinator of the gender and women’s studies program. Kelly teaches courses in performance and social change, theatre history, script analysis, acting, and feminist and queer theory; she also directs plays and mentors students interested in theatre for dialogue, applied theatre, community-based theatre, devised performances, dramaturgy, and theory and criticism. Her writing appears in Text and Performance Quarterly, Theatre Journal, and Theatre Topics. Kelly’s research interests include Theatre of the Oppressed and other forms of activist performance; community-based performance; critical pedagogy; and feminist, queer, and critical race theory. Her dissertation examined North American adaptations of Augusto Boal’s Legislative Theatre experiment. She is currently co-editing–with Julian Boal and Scot McElvany–Theatre of the Oppressed in Actions: An Audio-Visual Introduction to Boal’s Forum Theatre (Routledge). Her other recent scholarship focuses on radical performances critiquing notions of zygote personhood and corporate personhood. She also writes about theatrical contributions to conversations on U.S. health care reform, 2008-2010. She has facilitated summer performance devising programs for youth in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, and she currently sits on the advisory board for the Houston Forum For Arts In Health. As an artist, she specializes in collaborative devising, Forum Theatre, and new play direction. She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Performance as Public Practice from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.A. in Theatre and English from Muhlenberg College.

Mark Weinberg
Mark Weinberg, Community Representatives Chair, is an activist theatre-maker and teaching artist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mark has been active in transformative theatre work as educator, as one of the founding performers in the Other Theatre Company collective, as co-founder of the Theatre and Social Change focus group of ATHE, as board member of PTO, and as co-founder, with Jenny Wanasek, of the Center for Applied Theatre ( which uses Theatre of the Oppressed and related techniques to work with groups from all walks of life to identify problems and explore solutions. Most recently CAT’s work has focused on dismantling cultures of violence and using TO to promote meaningful learning in K-12 schools.

Mark began his study of TO with Augusto Boal in 1992 and has studied and/or co-facilitated with Julian Boal, Doug Paterson, Michael Rohd, David Diamond, Leigh Thompson, Norma Bowles, and others. He has conducted social justice and problem solving workshops and Applied Theatre educational sessions for, and has created Forum Theatre plays with, educators, administrators, students, workers, artists, community organizations and those they serve in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Austria.  His publications include Challenging the Hierarchy: Collective Theatre in the United States (Greenwood Press), “Community-based Theatre” in Theatre Symposium (8), “We Are All Theatre” in The Citizen Artist (with Doug Paterson), “The One-Line Play: Elaborations on Image Theatre” in Come Closer (with Jenny Wanasek), and “Shaking the Hands of Our Mentors” in the PTO Journal (with Katherine Burke and Mariana Ferreira). A Sixth-degree Black Belt in Karate, Mark is owner and lead instructor of Black Belt Leadership Academy in Wauwatosa where he trains and supervises staff and teaches leadership skills through the martial arts.


Rachel DeSoto-Jackson
Rachel DeSoto-Jackson is an educator, scholar, and social justice artist whose work focuses on creating diversity, equity, and inclusion through Applied Theater models for social change. Her artistic practice, scholarship, and teaching explore Latinx and minority narratives of identity, culture, and social memory. At the intersection of her work is an emphasis on community-building. Rachel is an Assistant Professor of Applied Theater at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Director of SPATE (Simulated Patient/Applied Theater Ensemble). This ensemble applies Theatre of the Oppressed in a continually evolving process of creation to challenge hegemonic systems of oppression and inequality. She holds an MFA in Performance Pedagogy, MA in Theatre and Performance Studies, and MA Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Rachel has held fellowships with the International Performing Arts for Youth organization and held appointments as a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and a Hot Metal Bridge Fellow.

Rebecca Struch
Rebecca Struch is a theatre artist, educator, and community organizer. She received her M.A. in Applied Theatre Arts from the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts and her B.A. in Theatre Arts and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Minnesota. She has an extensive background in community and youth development through liberation arts and participatory research, including more than eight years of training and experience in Theatre of the Oppressed.

In 2014 she launched Stage Coach, a two-year community-based, participatory theatre program at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. As their first Community Producer, she worked to integrate the ethics and practices of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed into many parts of the organization. She co-developed and co-taught the first Citizen Artist training program for the M.F.A. acting students and led the development of three community-devised productions with local partners. Internationally, she has trained in Brazil at the Center for Theatre of the Oppressed and has worked with therapists, youth, and health educators in Rwanda and Kenya. She also worked with Peer Health Exchange for three years in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland, ending her tenure as the Bay Area Program Director after training over 350 college volunteers and managing a school-based health education program for almost 7,500 high school students. In addition to teaching at A.C.T., she currently works at the Stanford Arts Institute supporting a myriad of arts research and academic programs on campus.

ruthiRuthi Engelke, Board Conference Liason, is on the Leadership Team at Move to Amend (MTA), a coalition of hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests. She works with Outreach and Engagement, Barnstorming, and as a liaison to the Pachamama Alliance, a partner group whose mission is to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, to educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world. Ruthi is a former theater teacher with a BA in Theater from the University of Texas as well as an MA in Literature from the University of Houston-CL. She has been working on creating a new Art & Culture Caucus for Move to Amend that examines art and culture as transformational movement work. Ruthi is also a certified yoga instructor.

Simona Simkins
Simona Simkins A 1999 graduate of Emory University (Atlanta, GA) with a BA in Theater Studies, Simona has spent the past twenty-plus years working for social justice through the development of Theatre of the Oppressed-based companies in Atlanta, Madison, and the Twin Ports (Duluth, MN / Superior, WI) communities. During the course of her non-profit professional career, she has also managed the Bridge-Lake Point-Waunona Neighborhood Center in Madison, WI, co-directed the inclusive theatre company Encore Studio for the Performing Arts in Madison, and run a number of youth theatre arts enrichment programs in Atlanta, Madison, and the Twin Ports communities.

As a Mexican-American woman, Simona is committed to pursuing her highest educational potential for her people’s justice and freedom. She completed her MA in Communicating Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2015, and is currently pursuing a PhD program in Theatre at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She teaches an Acting for Non-Majors course at the university that focuses on Theatre of the Oppressed games and devising, and is an Associate Director for the Center for Applied Theatre and Drama Research. She is also an active member of the University of Missouri Coalition of Graduate Workers, and a volunteer at the campus’ Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center. Taken together, Simona’s theatrical work has been an exploration of the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and identity politics in devised theatre performance.

Skye and Summer Snowdrop the Unicorm
Skye Ashton Kantola, Communications Director, is a violence prevention educator, a queer and trans community organizer, an engaged artist, and a public disturbance. Skye became involved in queer justice, racial justice, and immigration reform movements while attending Texas A&M University as an undergraduate student. Skye’s passion for violence prevention, PO and TO in education and social change, and art is rooted in their experiences a disabled trans person, a survivor, and borne in part from their experience with crisis intervention and community organizing work in Texas.

Shortly after moving to Indiana in 2012, Skylar began contributing to intersectional LGBTQ+ focused violence prevention efforts state wide as the Program Coordinator for the Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA) program based out of Purdue University. She has been utilizing PO & TO since 2013, writes and performs spoken word poetry, and creates visual artwork focused on trauma and resiliency in marginalized communities through their art business Faerie Bear Art. Skye mostly uses she or they pronouns and enjoys going by Skye or Skylar. In her free time, Skye enjoys compassionately disrupting complacency, doing positive dog training, and dancing foolishly in public with other unicorns.

TatianaGrassoTatiana Grasso is an impassioned educator, theater director and drama teacher with a well-established career in the performing arts that began in 2001. She completed her Performing Arts (Theatre and Education) degree in Brazil and her Master’s of Performing Arts (Theatre) in France, specializing in Augusto Boal’s theory and practice. As a member of the esteemed Parisian Theatre of the Oppressed company from 2007, Tatiana became proficient in Forum Theatre techniques and worked extensively with groups of people from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds for three years in Paris’ suburbs. She has performed in and directed plays that travelled internationally as a part of influential theatre companies in France, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Australia, promoting debates and reflection, and (re)thinking the world wherever she goes. Moving to Australia in 2010, Tatiana continued to work with Theatre of the Oppressed ideologies within formal and informal institutions that ranged from universities to established and recently created theater companies. Working with diverse groups of people Tatiana had the chance to incorporate a variety of themes during the workshops, which culminated in substantial Forum Theatre performances around Melbourne for a mixture of audiences. Tatiana has also initiated and developed Theatre of the Oppressed projects in collaboration with institutions like RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, NMIT: Young Adult Migrant Education and the Australian Centre of Performing Arts, working with participants that combined different cultures, themes of interest, ages, motivations and passions to develop social actions in many cases. Residing in Chicago since 2014, Tatiana has been contributing towards the creation of a Brazilian Centre of the Arts alongside other educators who value Paulo Freire’s pedagogies of learning, and continues acting, teaching and directing theater performances.

Doug Paterson, Emeritus, is Professor of Theatre at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. While he has published on numerous topics, his passion remains theatre and social change. He is co-founder of three theatres including the Dakota Theatre Caravan in South Dakota, the Circle Theatre in Omaha, and an Omaha group dedicated to TO work. To date he has offered over 200 Theatre of the Oppressed workshops and presentations in Omaha, across the US, and around the world. International sites include Rio de Janeiro, Israel, Iraq, Liberia, Australia, India, Croatia, and Palestine. Doug began the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed series of international Conferences in 1995, now in its seventeenth year. Doug Paterson continues to work actively to promote the work of Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire and is a peace and social justice activist in the Great Plains.