Robbie Guevara, ICAE, ASPBAE, Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Australia
Through three stories, Daniel L. Mpolomoka and Selina Banda establish a strong argument regarding the dangers of Theatre for Development (TfD) becoming too narrowly focused on the form – where the emphasis becomes only about the performance, and the educational purpose is overshadowed by the perceived need for entertainment and spectacle.
This emphasis on form takes away from the essence of theatre as a tool for participation. At the most basic level it is about the audience watching the performance, whereby the message, as the article described, is often predetermined by the sponsor. While this can achieve the purpose of awareness-raising about an important issue, from a development education perspective, it is top-down, because it assumes and advances a particular analysis of the issues, again from the sponsor’s perspective.
Furthermore, a TfD approach that emphasises only the form and promotes a specific content misses out on the potential for theatre as a process of co-creation. This is not merely the co-creation of the performance, but where the process of co-creation becomes an opportunity for generating a shared analysis of the issues identified, and for the performance to not just help raise awareness, but to motivate thoughtful and shared action.
I believe that TfD practitioners, myself included, need to explain to the sponsors, that we can do more than just perform, if the sponsors really want the audience to become aware and to respond to the identified issue. Therefore, we don’t turn down the opportunity and the resources, we actually use the opportunity to engage the sponsors in a dialogue about expanding the outcomes of the performance beyond entertainment, to possibly empowerment.
As TfD practitioners, engaging with the sponsors also helps us empower ourselves, as we give value to our craft and our skills by maintaining our belief in the power of theatre. Based on my own experience working with the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), this power comes from theatre itself being an holistic experience that combines the different elements of movement, music, language and visuals, in what we have called the Integrated Theatre Arts approach. This integration of the creative arts is as much a reflection of the recognition of the need to integrate the social, economic, environmental, cultural and political, in our analysis of the issues, if we are to indeed achieve development.
To overcome the tendency to narrow TfD to theatre as performance, TfD practitioners need to engage with the sponsors (not just their resources) and the audience (not just to entertain), because inclusive development cannot be achieved if the process itself is not inclusive.
Thank you to Daniel and Selina for sharing their valuable insights. As a further contribution to the discussion, may I invite you all to read a chapter I co-wrote that addresses this same tensions examined by Daniel and Selina.
Atienza, G.C. and Guevara, J.R. (2018) “Basta Masaya OK na” Reflections on Creative and Culture-based Approaches to Community Development Practice in the Philippines in Kenny, S, McGrath B. and Phillips R. (Eds) Handbook of Community Development: Perspectives from around the globe. London: Routledge.
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