Govan, E., Nicholson, H. Normington, K. ( 2007) ‘Narratives of Community’ in Making a Performance – Devising Histories and Contemporary Practices. London: Routledge. pp. 73 – 87.
Emma Govan, Helen Nicholson and Kate Normington begin by outlining that devising, as a tool, is effective in shaping community and challenging social injustice.
As professional theatre practitioners collaborate with a community and its participants, it aims to bring benefits, such as an improved way of life, extension of cultural democracy, and social change. Devised performance is generally considered to be effective due to its collaborative nature, and participatory working methods, as stated in the reading. It deals with “collective forms of community participation and social identification” (p. 73), rather than individual narratives.
This form of social change of community based-theatre holds its foundation in allowing participants’ own stories to be heard and “represented, reframed, rewritten and re-interpreted in ways, which challenge cultural orthodoxies.” (p. 73). It relies on concepts of community and narrative.
Community, however, can represent negative aspects. As well as offering inclusion, it can also exclude, creating a them and us mindset. It can affect marginalised groups of people, states Govan, et al, by “entrapping the poor, and confining women to the sphere of the domestic, and creating hostile environments for migrant populations” (Young, 1990, p. 300-303).
Though many people rely on community for support, homogenous narratives of local identity and shared listening and identity can be limiting. Communities are generally formed when populations believe they share values and identities (Anderson, 1991). “People consider communities to be a ‘resonance and repository of meaning, a referent of their identity’ (Cohen, 1985: 118)” (p. 74).
Storytelling shapes community, as using narrative theory creates distinction, or lack of, between “prescription and description, between fiction and reality” (p. 75). As Govan, et al. describe, it is the space that constructs life and perception, and its reconstruction and recognition in the future.
Community represents various possibilities. It focuses on narratives of selfhood and community as being continually produced and reproduced due to interaction with others, the reading questions this to analyse it. Through this community become cultural practice, and interaction, and reciprocity between participants performing this allows them to negotiate through “competing attachments and the different narratives” (p. 75) of their different communities.
Community building becomes a creative process, as storytelling produces social coherence. Drama also utilises stories for the creative process, allowing the space to question how narratives of community are performed, and their possible re-interpretation.
Participating in drama goes against the ‘top-down’ approach hat other options of community coherence may present, as it worked on participants’ ideas and interactivity, rather than centralised ideologies and agendas (Mayo, 2000, p. 179-180). Taking from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, participants are encouraged to reflect on personal experience and use their own ideas for development of social action. This is known as the art of knowing. It allows participants to re-order, construct and re-evaluate their ideas, narratives ad knowledge to gain insights.
Autobiographical performance or narratives can be a political process. Furthering from Freire’s banking education, which he says positions the oppressed as vessels to soak up centralised agenda and information. Devising performance is one way against this system of work as it encourages participants to reflect on personal experience through inter-personal connection, to construct new social identities and communication. Devising also allows participants to perform narratives that hold significant social changes. This allows navigation between the real and the possible, what is and what could be.
As mentioned before, communities are generally based on shared experience and struggles. Community based theatre is efficient when it presents a level of understanding and relationship, offering a space for imagination. Bringing people together to share narratives and common experience permits marginalised voices to be heard and presents psychological and social benefits.
Devising usually emphasised the blurring of the truth and fiction. When communities use devised theatre, it offers representation of memory, and it shows “social, communitarian and historical significance as well as personal relevance.” (p. 82).