The Applied Theatre Reader
eBook - ePub

The Applied Theatre Reader

Tim Prentki, Nicola Abraham, Tim Prentki, Nicola Abraham

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  1. 320 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Applied Theatre Reader

Tim Prentki, Nicola Abraham, Tim Prentki, Nicola Abraham

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The Applied Theatre Reader is the first book to bring together new case studies of practice by leading practitioners and academics in the field and beyond, with classic source texts from writers such as Noam Chomsky, bell hooks, Mikhail Bakhtin, Augusto Boal and Chantal Mouffe.

This new edition brings the field fully up to date with the breadth of applied theatre practice in the twenty-first century, adding essays on playback theatre, digital technology, work with indigenous practitioners, inter-generational practice, school projects and contributors from South America, Australia and New Zealand. The Reader divides the field into key themes, inviting critical interrogation of issues in applied theatre whilst also acknowledging the multi-disciplinary nature of its subject, crossing fields like theatre in educational settings, prison theatre, community performance, theatre in conflict resolution, interventionist theatre and theatre for development.

A new lexicon of Applied Theatre and further reading for every part will equip readers with the ideal tools for studying this broad and varied field. This collection of critical thought and practice is essential to those studying or participating in the performing arts as a means for positive change.

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Part I

1 Applied theatre

An introduction

Nicola Abraham
AT THE TIME of writing this chapter, a majority of the world is in lockdown or at least some form of social isolation as a protective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a virus that has caused an international pandemic. It is at this point that our practice will be tested to see how we can adopt new technology-driven approaches to find ways of navigating uncertainty and embracing community through the technology available to us. It is not the circumstances we are used to for the delivery of applied theatre projects, nor is it the ideal relationship to hold with vulnerable community groups. Yet, it is also a call to action to support loved ones, to support local communities, to volunteer to deliver food and emotional support to older adults living in isolation and to come together as a community. At 8 p.m. on Thursday 26 March 2020, people across the UK leant out of windows or stood at the end of their driveways and applauded National Health Service (NHS) staff for their bravery, hard work and dedication to tackling COVID-19. The applause connected neighbours and communities with a sense of social solidarity across the nation, following the examples set by Italy, and many other countries throughout the world. It signified a sense of unity and shared experiences in an extraordinary, emotional performance of understanding shared circumstances. This global crisis will undoubtedly change the way that applied theatre practitioners work to overcome the hurdles of physical space to enter virtual worlds of collaboration and community building. However, what is important is the maintenance of the essential foundations that inform the range of methodologies that encapsulate applied theatre practice.
What can be drawn from this moment in time and what is the significance of the #ClapForCarers campaign for applied theatre? Firstly, this campaign demonstrates a social drive towards a shared goal, which in this case is the fight to contain, and eradicate, COVID-19. The campaign also presents a parallel quality to applied theatre: an intention for social change. This social drive to action is a common feature of applied theatre practice. Tim Prentki and Dave Pammenter (2014) suggest that the ‘subversive potential of theatre is located within the dialectical interaction between lived experience and the creative imagination’ (2014:10). In this case the safe and socially distanced connection between people forms a performance of togetherness that may be the starting point for the collective action that Prentki and Pammenter discuss. The creative imagination behind the idea for a nationwide campaign, or the initiative ‘to do something’, and the shared act of applause, as a creative signifier of support and community, provides an example of a moment of planned performance that created connections and built a following for a particular social issue. This moment may be likened to the routes of applied theatre in the celebratory political theatre work of John Fox, Sue Gill and Welfare State International (founded in 1968). Baz Kershaw and Tony Coult, discussing the work of Welfare State International, describe their approach as a means to ‘break down physical and social inhibitions between strangers to create a shared communal experience’ (1983:160). Their large scale public events, often featuring giant models and puppets, music and related festivities, signified a political message. For example, their 1976 community art piece entitled ‘Parliament in Flames’ was ‘performed’ to an audience of 10,000 members of the local community to serve as a political metaphor. Welfare State International innovated in their approach to bring performance and their extravagant aesthetic to communities outside of conventional theatre spaces, another common theme of applied theatre. There is clearly a strong motivation to reach people who may not conventionally attend theatre performances to bring to life the potential of ritual in theatre to call for communities to participate in immersive festivities. The challenge here may be the resulting action or motivation to turn political critique into resistance beyond the time span of the event itself. We may also see this as a parallel to the #ClapForCarers approach wherein the community who took part in the celebratory applause highlighted the importance of the need for social isolation to protect those working in our healthcare services.
It is not just the representation of community voice that shares common ground with applied theatre, but also the importance of inclusion and participation in an event that was created with, for and by the community (Prentki and Preston, 2009:10). This echoes priorities for applied theatre that are arguably unchanged over the past decade. But perhaps the ways in which each approach happens has necessarily shifted and required further thought over time. For example, we may think about the power dynamics at play when a practitioner running a community project or facilitating a piece of interactive theatre (such as Forum Theatre) has the responsibility of enabling the audience to have their say and to honour their suggestions regardless of their own politics. In reality, this sounds rather more utopian than perhaps it is possible to offer. Those who ‘hold a space’ – whether that is a community workshop in a village hall, a devising session in a prison or a campaign for human rights in an indigenous community – need to recognise their own positionality as a representative of a funder or as an outsider traversing culture, language, gender, race, sexuality, and the general lived experience of those they work with. It is imperative that practitioners don’t ignore this hierarchical structure that is in place, whether it is intended or not. This hierarchical relationship needs to be navigated with great care and thoughtfulness for those who participate in applied theatre projects. Monica Prendergast and Juliana Saxton discuss the potential of applied theatre in the offer it makes as a theatrical form presenting opportunities for playing with alternatives:
The liminality (third space) of collective theatremaking presents opportunities to try things out in an existential and metaphoric world that is different because we are making it as it makes us. The ability to pretend as ‘other’ offers multiple openings to try on identities and, perhaps, to shape our becoming in directions we might not have considered.
The potential to play with alternatives, and offer space for communities to engage with the politics of oppression, is often a central theme within applied theatre projects to varying degrees. Oppression may come in many forms including neo-colonial rhetoric and behaviours that deviously underlie our practice and require practitioners to assert critical self-reflection to avoid re-presenting the very narratives they are trying to deconstruct in their practice. There is also a further contradiction that applied theatre has learnt to identify and engage with, which is the neoliberal discourses that permeate funding calls, indicators of efficacy for end of project reports, and the use of applied theatre as a corrective approach to challenge at-risk behaviours. This approach draws upon and has shifted the original intentions of theatre in education (TIE) companies such as Belgrade Theatre (first venturing into theatre in education in 1965) and later Dorothy Heathcote, Gavin Bolton, Cecily O’Neil and Jonathon Neelands’ approaches to drama in education (DIE) strategies in the 1980s and beyond. Though of course there are remaining similarities at play between current practice and the original methodologies. Trends tend to follow social issues, which in turn relate to funding on offer for third sector companies to develop interventions to address and improve the latest situation under the media microscope whether this is gang violence, knife crime, school exclusions, rehabilitation, bullying or cybercrimes. Belgrade Theatre was influential in the mid-1960s for pioneering theatre in education strategies to take theatre to schools to explore and unpack particular topics. Tony Jackson (2002) describes TIE as ‘a co-ordinated and carefully structured pattern of activities, usually devised and researched by the company, around a topic of relevance both to the school curriculum and to the children’s own lives’ (2002:4). Heavily influenced by the work of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre and Brazilian practitioner Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, TIE usually incorporates some sort of performance, generally with a participatory forum theatre element at the end of a problem-posing piece of theatre or with follow-up participatory workshops that allow the audience to further examine, explore and critically engage with the themes of the play. Dave Pammenter (2002) exposes the challenges for TIE devisers, noting that they are caught up in an oppressive system of education that is not child-centred, a term that was the focus of Education Act advancements in 1944 and later in 1948, but are instead concerned with the production of a future workforce (see Ken Robinson, 2006) and re-enforcement of a class system that maintains social divides (see Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, 1977, and Jay MacCleod’s Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations & Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood, 1987). Balancing the priorities of a new radical educational practice (TIE), and working within an education system that must meet government standards and requirements for the development of a future workforce, TIE companies found themselves navigating a high wire walk to maintain funding from Local Education Authorities (LEAs), whilst offering child-centred and politically astute projects. We can see from Sheila Preston’s (2011) assessment of the ideological entanglement of practitioners and projects in neoliberal agendas that applied theatre continues to walk this well-trodden track to maintain project commissions whilst offering pedagogical values that draw heavily upon a co-intentional approach. This is a complex contradiction that exists and warrants constant thought for practitioners negotiating funding agendas, safeguarding guidance and radical approaches to practice that provoke critical consciousness in participants.
The invitation to participate and encourage critical debate is another central theme of applied theatre. The approach often adopted by practitioners originates from Brazilian educator and innovator of radical pedagogy Paulo Freire. Freire (1996) is clearly identifiable as one of the leading influences in applied theatre practice. Freire’s notion of co-intentionality as a form of learner–teacher exchange places the learner on an equal footing with the teacher/leader. In this case, both learner and teacher respect one another as co-subjects who discover and develop their understanding of situation, circumstance and knowledge together. Freire suggests that this is important to ensure that those impacted by oppressive rhetoric are involved in a process of discovery through education that is ‘not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement’ (1996:51). This approach is significant in that it recognises the expert lived experiences of communities over the often research-informed knowledge of the practitioners. The tension here is the move away from the ‘banking’ system of education, which Freire describes as a hierarchical one-way transmission of knowledge from the all-knowing teacher to the empty vessel of the student. The banking system of pedagogy doesn’t view both teacher and students as subjects in a state of becoming. Instead it assumes superiority of knowledge for the leader in the room (the teacher) and rejects the contextual knowledge of the student (community participant). Though a shift to co-intentional practice is clearly, to borrow from British Psychologist Tom Kitwood’s (1997) proposed model of care, a relational view of personhood or a ‘person centred’ approach that we may view as a method to focus on humanising people, it isn’t necessarily easily received without resistance. bell hooks (1994) recounts responses from a group of students who demonstrated opposition to a transgressive pedagogy: ‘[t]‌o these students, transgressing boundaries was frightening. And though they were not the majority, their spirit of rigid resistance seemed always to be more powerful than any will to intellectual openness and pleasure in learning’ (1994:9). The ‘danger’ associated with co-intentional radical pedagogy is important to note, not only for fear that it might be resisted, but also because it is different and signals a change to learning approaches that are unfamiliar in an increasingly exam driven system of education.
The politics of intervention and the poetics of applied theatre need to account for the need to find different ways of offering radical pedagogy through artistic forms. In DIE there are a number of notable practitioners who have fused critical engagement with dramatic form. Dorothy Heathcote innovated the use of drama in education which speaks to Freire’s co-intentional pedagogical proposal by using a structural technique she developed, referred to as Mantle of the Expert (MoE). This approach places participants ‘in role’ within a narrative providing permission for participants to shift power hierarchies between the teacher/artist and their own positions as students. Discussing the influence of Heathcote’s work, Roger Wooster (2016) relates Heathcote’s approach to a Socratic method in action: ‘Heathcote’s range of questioning and musing tones … can be used to engage and elicit responses without leading, so that the children come to their own understanding of a situation’ (2016:71). Wooster also notes Heathcote’s determination to ‘arrest’ a moment of action through a ‘depiction’ or tableaux allowing time for problem-posing, interrogation and critical reflection upon the action. This provided a different means to navigate knowledge, subjectivity and critical reflection, and permits the dismantlement of power hierarchies.
TIE and DIE are two important parts of the umbrella term of applied theatre, but the field encapsulates a much broader array of practices that draw from other traditions which are important to note. In both TIE and DIE practices, it is also significant to recognise that there may be ‘ready formed’ communities of children who are enabled to attend through timetabling sessions into their daily schedules. However, applied theatre works with communities where a readily available community isn’t always easy to identify or bring together, particularly in a world where individualism, protectionism and neoliberal discourses of social exclusion are rife in everyday life. In this case, it is important to think about how to draw a community together. For our initial #ClapForCarers example, there was a desire to be together, to celebrate and congratulate. This drive to be together as social beings is important for our wellbeing, for the creation of support networks and a sense of community in troubling times and beyond. The drive for community in this sense also provides opportunities for applied theatre to happen through the offer of events that draw different people into the same space to explore ideas through sharing in a performance or participating in an event.
In the 1970s, John McGrath founded theatre company 7:84 (Scotland). The performances created by the company drew upon local popular entertainment, traditions and histories to create participatory performances laced with music, dance, comedy, song and storytelling. One of their well-known performances is the Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil, a performance offering critical examination of the English occupation of the Scottish highlands for economic gain. This production presented an historical parallel to the impact of international oil companies invading the oil-fields located in the North Sea, predominantly n...

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