In this session, we worked on Theatre for Development with Sheila Preston.
Stuck in the Mud
The facilitator, Sheila Preston, began this session by playing a game called Stuck in the Mud as a warm up exercise. This game requires participants to chase and tag each other. When tagged, the participant is stuck, and can only be released when another participant crawls under their legs.
As well as being a good warm up exercise to lift the energy, Preston also used it to experiment with facilitation and making activities more suitable for different participants. As the game was exceptionally energetic and required a lot of energy crawling under participants’ legs to release them, Preston posed other ways we could play the game. A suggestion a participant made was that when you’re tagged, you create a still image and to be freed, somebody else has to mirror the still image for three seconds. We decided to use this modification.
Though this change helped alter the game and added a performative element into it, the game could still be modified further. Instead of running, we tried hopping and finally we decided on running in slow motion. This allows the class to consider and work with modifying activities to better facilitate for different participants and audiences.
Theatre for Development
Theatre for Development (TFD) works in an environment that needs improvement. As explained by Tim Prentki in Applied Theatre: Development (2015, in Atwal, 2016) applied theatre, as a general form of theatre, works in contexts where the work and context of work has a “specific resonance with its participants and its audience” (p. 5). This also, to certain percentages, involves them in the work. This includes various subject areas of work, including community theatre, theatre for social change, popular theatre, interventionist theatre, drama in education, prison theatre, theatre in health/education, and so on.
As quoted by Preston, “bringing about social change in order to improve living standards of the people.” (Mda, 1992, p39). It is usually used in countries that are “undeveloped”, working around creating awareness or solving social or political issues. This creates a focus around transformation, with participation from the communities that it affects. This theatre type has a key influence on applied performance. It has key elements of participation, transformation and representation.
However, development is not always positive, it can create negative consequences, and is multi-layered. President Truman created the terms undeveloped and third world in 1949. This type of development focuses on a modernised and Western approach of civilisation and change. It becomes a process of the West bringing their version of development to the “underdeveloped” countries, which is not necessarily a positive act. It states that you need to be developed and modernised according to Western values, bringing forward a sense of Western imperialism and entitlement. A question raised by this is, why does the West feel it has a duty to intervene? This carries elements of colonisation.
Another question raised is, who decides what is civilised and what is uncivilised? Furthermore, this conveys the belief that development is bringing the modern, Western way of living over tradition. This holds Eurocentric undertones. This is known as “top-down” development. Other, smaller, examples of top-down development are campaigns like Say No to Drugs. These campaigns sometimes ignore the circumstances and conditions, which can affect drug users, leading to other problematic consequences, like the “war on drugs”.
In this way, TFD used to work by transmitting information from centralised industries or organisations, like the government directly to the intended recipients. As stated by Tim Prentki in Save the Children: Change the World (Researching Drama Education, 2003), it works similarly to “propaganda techniques of the workers theatre movements in Europe and North America in the 1920s and 30s.” This work was passive for audiences. It strongly carried the “colonial assumption that ‘we know what’s best for you’.”
This top-down approach TFD, as Preston states using Prentki’s ideas…
- Carries modernisation principles over traditional
- Has a strong connotation of “we know what is best for you”
- Have themes like nutrition, education, health, agriculture (Mda, 1992, p11)
- Banking education style techniques – it is passive and feeds without co-operation and co-involvement.
In the 1990s, TFD moved focus from modernisation to participation, the opposite of banking education style techniques. Participation from communities became a key element of TFD during this time. This allowed active learning and development. As specified by Prentki, people learn better by doing.
Nevertheless, this did not create major change to the top-down approach. It was simply a new tactic. Participation was followed by set terms and guidelines.
The different bottom-up approach in TFD, as indicated by Preston in the TFD Session 8 hand out:
- Has an alternative development approach
- Influenced by Paulo Friere (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970) and focuses on transformation through:
- Dialogue, empowerment and self-reliance
- People actively work around the development issues
- Utilises participation.
- This TFD focuses on highlighting problems and not presenting solutions.
Theory of Action
As quoted from Rahman in Participatory Development: Towards Liberation and Co-optation (Craig and Mayo, p24), TFD now focuses on allowing communication to self-reflect, and not be educated and taught in the banking style of education. The community themselves are an active part of the work, and they transform their own reality. TFD becomes a tool for transformation. It allows ordinary people to experiment with theatre, and it gives them a voice to reflect on social and political issues.
As a group, Preston led two case studies. I’ll be concentrating on TFD in Malawi, which focused on the Malaria Prevention project with UNICEF called Bed Net Campaign. This project raised awareness of the dangers of malaria in communities across Malawi; it presented the awareness of mosquito nets. The project used well known performers from that region and was funded by UNICEF. It fused education with entertainment carving the term edutertainment. The project was used in ten villages across five different districts. The performance used a lot of visual depictions and physicality, which allows audiences to remember more consciously, but there was a lack of strong participation from the village communities themselves. This was counteracted through the use of celebrated figures from Malawi. This stops the agenda or project being imposed onto the communities.
The performance is humorous and reflective with information provided within the performance. For example, one performer comes out of character to speak directly to the audience about the dangers of Malaria directly.
However, the performance still raised questions within the group about if it was still using centralised tactics:
- Were the communities being preached at about something they already know about?
- Will constant education on the issue help?
- Could they not give away free or reduced priced mosquito nets themselves?
- Does development create dependency, if it always giving or helping?
Five Key Development Phases of Theatre for Development:
- Phase 1: It establishes key conditions, like participation, communication, and awareness of the issue to analyse and reflect.
- Phase 2: Teaching the group to research the community, devising that reflects on issues, focusing on posing problems and not solutions, and develop facilitation skills.
- Phase 3: Evaluation and planning.
Allows the group to reflect on the process and evaluate work.
Enable group to adopt skills and continue the work to support.
Create skills like teamwork, team-building, recognising strengths and weaknesses.
Atwal, P. (2016) ‘Applied Theatre: Development by Tim Prentki – Chapter 1: History and Origins for Theatre for Development’. PA5404: Applied Performance. Unpublished essay/assignment.