Audience Response to COVID Monologues: Research-Based Theater on the Societal Impact of COVID-19

Emily A. Hurley, Saraniya Tharmarajah, Genevieve de Mahy, Jess Rassp, Joe Salvatore, Jonathan P. Jones, Steven A. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Research-based theater uses drama to communicate research findings to audiences beyond those that typically read peer-reviewed journals. We applied research-based theater to translate qualitative research findings on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different segments of U.S. society. Approach: Theater artists and public health researchers collaborated to create a collection of eight monologues from systematically sourced, peer-reviewed publications. Following three virtual performances in Spring, 2021, audience members were invited to complete a survey. Setting/Participants: Audience survey respondents (n = 120) were mostly U.S.-based and were diverse in terms of age, race/ethnicity, gender, profession, and experience attending theater. Method: We summarized closed-ended responses and explored patterns by demographic characteristics. We synthesized themes of open-ended responses with inductive coding. Results: Audience members somewhat/strongly agreed that COVID Monologues increased their knowledge (79.4%), represented the reality of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic (95.7%), and offered new perspectives on what people had been experiencing (87.5%). Most also agreed research-based theater is an effective means of understanding health research (93.5%) and can promote community resilience in times of public health crisis (83.2%). Mann-Whitney U tests suggested less positive reactions from demographics that were not well-represented in monologue characters (cisgender men, Hispanics). Qualitative comments suggested audience members valued monologues that offered self-reflection and validation of their own COVID-19 experiences through relatable characters as well as those that offered insight into the experiences of people different from themselves. Conclusion: This work adds to evidence that research-based theater can help build knowledge and emotional insight around a public health issue. As these elements are foundational to pro-social, preventative health behaviors, research-based theater may have a useful role in promoting collective response to public health crises like COVID-19. Our method of systematically-sourcing research for theater-based dissemination could be extended to target more specific audiences with actionable behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-426
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • COVID-19
  • dissemination
  • knowledge translation
  • qualitative research
  • research-based theater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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