Community theatre: Context and Ideology                                   Samuel RavengaiWhat is a community? George Marcu...
What is ideology? Is there any theatre that is not ideologically driven? An ideologydefined broadly is ‘more or less coher...
Aristotelian tradition disempowered performers from other ethnic backgrounds whodon’t necessarily create their theatre usi...
The first two approaches have been tried in Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zambia,Swaziland, Malawi and Tanzania and earli...
community. Thus this method is more educational for the people. Before an        issue can be enacted the people dig deepe...
build a polytechnic college to teach the villagers vocational skills to deal withpoverty.The Kamiriithu village is located...
language for certain categories of characters. Ngugi wa Thiong’o reports thatcomments of this nature were common: ‘An old ...
principle that the community is a reservoir of local knowledge, experience, and skillswhich can be harnessed for positive ...
gain. For this reason they care less about PRA procedures and outcomes. At theKCECC the animateurs used the TfD method whi...
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Community theatre

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  1. 1. Community theatre: Context and Ideology Samuel RavengaiWhat is a community? George Marcus sees community as a group of people residingin the same cultural space with a ‘sense of shared values, shared identity, and thusshared culture’ (1992:315). Homogeneity is a key element of communal identities.Communal identities are particularly well developed in rural areas. In the city acommunity becomes an entity with shared economic and social conditions that bindpeople together particularly in a space where the gap between the rich and the pooris wide such as South Africa which is second after Brazil. Communal feelings dopersist in the townships. Even though community can be defined the termcommunity theatre/popular theatre is an elusive or slippery term. There arecontrasting views about what it is as evidenced by a plethora of names/terms usedamongst practitioners and scholars – all describing the same phenomenon:development theatre, theatre for development, popular theatre, communitytheatre, participatory theatre, theatre for the people, people’s theatre (Frank 1995:10), majority theatre, committed theatre, contestatory theatre (Solberg 1999: 1),democratic theatre (Udenta 1993), people’s theatre, revolutionary theatre,(Chifunyise, Kavangh, wa Mirii 1993).Studies in Community theatre have developed in three main branches  Theatre that operates within tough commercial framework of urban economies  Social development – often – though not always concerned with rural projects  Political/revolutionary potential of community theatreObviously these are not separate independent entities but ‘centres of dynamism’always fluctuating, shifting and overlapping categories. A group may operatecommercially and also do plays on social development and political consciousness.The kind of theatre for development proposed by Mlama links the second and thirdcategories Popular theatre may be seen as an effort to develop a type of theatre that is relevant to people’s life and struggle as opposed to the theatre of entertainment and abstraction from reality of the dominant classes. Here theatre is used not only to develop theatre as a form of cultural expression, but also, and more significantly, as a tool for improving life in its totality. Theatre becomes a process through which man studies and forms an opinion about it and acquires the frame of mind necessary for him to take action to improve upon it. As such, theatre is economic, social, political – indeed life itself (Mlama 1991: 16)Community theatre here serves as an ideological tool in both a social and politicalstruggle. The boundaries between what is social and what is political blur. Thedifference is of content, but the ideology remains the same. Frank divides the secondbranch of community theatre (social development) into two subcategories 1. Project – oriented plays: performed to implement a concrete improvement in the life of the community eg building a house (RDP). The minister of human settlements in SA contracted a group to raise consciousness in the area of urban housing. 2. Theatre for consciousness raising/Campaign theatre. 1 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  2. 2. What is ideology? Is there any theatre that is not ideologically driven? An ideologydefined broadly is ‘more or less coherent set of values and beliefs used to describeand maintain images of the world. Among the most important functions of anideology is control over image management… Ideologies shape subjective realitiesprimarily through influencing the selection of information and the weight given tosingle facts and processes (i.e. the degree of correctness and representativenessascribed to the information (Shlapentokh and Shlapentokh, 1993: 11-12). Accordingto Andrew Horn (1997) all art – be it ‘high’ art of the intelligentsia, the popularcommercial art produced for mass consumption, the critical art of both theprogressive and the reactionary , or the folk art of traditional cultures – serves theends of some sector of society. Which side does community theatre serve? Ngugi waThiong’o argues that any art cannot escape from the class power structures thatshape our lives. The artist has a choice whether to be on the side of the people or onthe side of social forces and classes that oppress the people. There is no position ofneutrality. Ngugi wa Thiong’o asserts that ‘every writer is a writer in politics. Theonly question is what and whose politics’ (cited in Udenta 1993: iv). This can betaken to mean that every artiste takes an ideological position. Ideologically, on whichside is community theatre?  It takes the position and worldview of the working class, peasants and the lumpen proletariat. It sees the world these people see it. It looks at their failures, triumphs, setbacks and achievements. It takes working class ideology.  Though not substitute for action community theatre is a carrier of social values, a galvaniser of the people, a raiser of their consciousness.  It depicts positive heroes bringing out their humanistic elements, their courage and disappointments.  Democratisation of language – usually in an African language.  It applies forms which people know and with which they are familiar. It builds on cultural traditions and forms of expression through which the given society is accustomed to communicate  It utilises local communal and indigenous dramaturgical resources like the rejection of the proscenium theatre in favour of open arena performances, a combination of dance-drama music.  It utilises the audience as participants. It fuses performance and audience organically. The answers to questions arsing from the play originate in the same forum that pose the questions. With the help of discussions one arrives at the topics that the group would like to consider.Community theatre and Western (Aristotelian) TheatreAmong scholars on African theatre, the Aristotelian poetics is one of the mostfiercely attacked western aspects and considered to be the root of problems inAfrican performance (Ravengai, 2001; van Erven, 1991; Etherton, 1982). Aristoteliantheatre is viewed as an artistic mirror of a capitalist consumer culture that upholdsthe political status quo. Diana Belshaw (2008) has argued that scripted plays of the 2 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  3. 3. Aristotelian tradition disempowered performers from other ethnic backgrounds whodon’t necessarily create their theatre using its principles. She argues that thedevising method allows each person to bring in something from their life and this is acreative aspect that is at the heart of community theatre.Western (Aristotelian) Theatre Community TheatreProduct ProcessScript improvisation (devising)Written oralAudience watches audience participates/experientialDialogue potpourri: dance, mime, song, dramaUsually a European language usually an African languageElitist popularCatharsis empowering/liberatingModels or Approaches to Community Theatre 1. The Travelling theatre approachIn Africa, travelling theatres were initiated by Universities with the aim of breakingaway from the urban based theatre inherited from colonialism. This is literally takingtheatre to the people and has been tried in Ibadan, Makerere, Nairobi, Malawi, andZambia. The travelling theatre group might or might not organise workshops for andhold discussions with its audiences; the important point is that the audiences – whoare the community – are not involved and do not participate in the playmakingprocess. However, with some luck, the travelling theatre group might just inspiretheatre groups in the communities visited. The University of Nairobi TravellingTheatre, for example, did influence the development of theatre in the country andstrengthened the development towards theatre at the Kamiriithu CommunityEducational and Culture Centre. 2. The outside Team Workers ApproachThe second approach is when a group of people goes to a community, stays withthat community, listens to and observes the people’s main problems and concerns,exchanges opinions with the people and then goes back to base to make a play onwhat were seen as the major themes arsing out of the discussions and observations.The resulting play is then brought back to the community – written and acted bypeople from outside. The usual discussion after the play might be tacked in. 3. The Participatory ApproachAlternatively, the same group as above comes to the community and listens to thecommunity’s problems, discusses and observes. However, instead of moving awayfrom the community to evolve and make a play around the issues arising out of thecommunity, the group stays with the community with whom it makes the plays. Amuch higher level of community participation is when the community itself takes theinitiative to create theatre and invites people outside their community as was thecase in Kenya with the Kamirithu Community Education and Cultural Centre (KCECC).Evaluation of the three approaches 3 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  4. 4. The first two approaches have been tried in Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zambia,Swaziland, Malawi and Tanzania and earlier in Kenya and Uganda. The majorweakness of these approaches is their failure to involve people and to tap thepeople’s creative potentialities, cultural strengths and to develop their awareness oftheir environment. And though the second approach purports to reflect problemsseen in the community, the representation of these problems is nonetheless as theyare seen by the theatre workers – not as the people see them. The process ofplaymaking does not involve the community’s participation, therefore thecommunity is not afforded the chance to ask itself why things have happened theway they have - and yet again why? The community has little opportunity to developits own artistic and cultural skills.The above two approaches’ limitations are particularly glaring when theatre is usedby extension workers to propagate specific and localised narrow ‘developmentalist’messages to do with health, literacy, agriculture, etc. the failure to involve thecommunity in intensive discussion and in the evolving of the play as well as denyingthe community the chance to develop its artistic and cultural talents also leads to thefollowing: 1. Top to bottom solution. The community is forced to accept uncritically and without thought whatever development solutions are offered by extension workers. Thus their initiative is emasculated. The people are still the passive and dependent recipients of ‘aid’ from outside denied the chance to become the active participants in, the subjects and not objects, the makers and not consumers of, their own history and destiny. 2. Solutions do not challenge the status quo. The so called ‘pragmatic’ and technical solutions fail to answer such vital questions as: does the community have material means to afford a consultation with a medical doctor? If not why? And why again? Looked at this way, it obvious that even seemingly simple problems cannot be seen in isolation from the historical, national and international socio-economic context. 3. This kind of theatre does not raise the political understanding of the people. And, appearances notwithstanding, it does not help in the transformation of people’s lives. 4. Because of its prescriptive nature and failure to involve the people, it is doubtful that the people will be inspired enough to organise their own theatre groups and develop a dynamic theatre tradition. It is usually a one time affair.The third approach (the participatory approach) has been found to the moremeaningful approach and the one that is able to fully mobilise a community as theKCECC in Kenya testifies. This is because: 1. Involvement of the people empowers them as they take part in finding solutions to their own problems. It frustrates the dependency syndrome (depending on outsiders). Normally when these outsiders leave the community, the process fails because of the community’s inculcated sense of dependency. 2. The involvement of the community in the theatre process in all its stages inevitably leads to the community analysing the problems that it confronts, how these manifest themselves and what effect they have on the 4 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  5. 5. community. Thus this method is more educational for the people. Before an issue can be enacted the people dig deeper in the historical causes of their material condition. This helps them to sharpen their critical perspective and to become more constructively responsive to national issues. Thus the process of playmaking becomes an educational and politicising experience. 3. The people become transformed by this experience. The playmaking process taps and develops their artistic skills and talents, and makes them discover other latent potentialities. And because the theatre experience demands that their feelings and thoughts be involved, they become more sensitised to their history and to the current national issues. 4. The discipline and organisational structure which necessarily arise out of this experience teaches people organisational skills and encourages them to take initiatives and control these structures. This also helps to dynamise their collective life. 5. This process, once it takes hold in the community, complements the formal education of the community.The Participatory Approach Model –Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre: Monitoring and EvaluationThe two terms monitoring and evaluation are not synonymous. Monitoring isnormally done during the progress of the project by way of systematic collection andanalysis of information with the aim of improving efficiency and effectiveness of aproject. This may not be possible for a project that was done in 1977. Evaluation isthe comparison of actual project impacts against the agreed strategic plan, which isdone either during the life of the project after the project as some kind of anautopsy. What did the kamiriithu project intend to achieve? What did it accomplishand how did it accomplish it? However, both monitoring and evaluation are gearedtowards learning from what one is doing and how s/he is doing it by focussing onthree issues: 1. Efficiency: is the input (time, money, staff, equipment etc) into the work corresponding with output? 2. Effectiveness: a measure of the extent to which a project achieves its objectives 3. Impact: whether or not the process of creating theatre and the theatrical event made a difference to the problem situation that the animateurs were trying to address.What can be said about the above issues? After opening on the 2nd of October 1977to a paying audience the project was an immediate success in terms of audienceattendance. Audiences did not only come from Kamiriithu, but from surroundingareas. The press has been talking about the project ever since and many books anddissertations have been written about the project. The banning of the project by theKenyan government created a backlash which gave life to the project after itsdemise. The government publicised it by banning it. Many projects which wereinfluenced by Kamiriithu followed – Mother Sing for Me (1982), Kamiriithu musicaldrama (1982) which was banned including all theatre activities in the entire area ofLimuru, Vihiga Cultural Festival in western Kenya. As a response to what the peoplewanted President Daniel Arap Moi visited the area in 1984 and donated money to 5 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  6. 6. build a polytechnic college to teach the villagers vocational skills to deal withpoverty.The Kamiriithu village is located in Limuru – 30 or so kilometres from Nairobi. It wasestablished in the 1950s by the British colonial administration as a‘keep/concentration camp’ to cut off links between the people and the Mau Mauguerrillas. After independence in 1963 the village remained intact this time servingas a dormitory village for cheap labour for various companies, factories, plantationsand farms in Limuru. Kamiriithu village had a population of about 10 000 people. Ithad a dilapidated Youth Centre (in an open area covering four acres) which was usedas an adult education centre and was run by peasants, workers, a school teacher anda businessman. The community realised it needed to resuscitate its creative vibrancyand to learn more about its history and how it could overcome forces against it.Ngugi wa Thiong’o was approached in 1976 by a Kamiriithu woman who asked himto be involved in the development of the village through creative participation of thevillage. It wasn’t the facilitators/development agents/animateurs imposingthemselves on the community. The following agreed to join the project asanimateurs: • Ngugi wa Thiong’o – lecturer and chairman of the Literature Department. He worked as a researcher and writer of the resultant play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I will Marry when I Want) • Dr Kimani Gecau – lecturer in the Literature Department and Director of Ngaahika Ndeenda • Kabiru Kinyanjui (co-researcher) • Ngugi wa Mirii – development worker, co-ordinating director of the Kamiriithu project and co-writer of the play Ngaahika NdeendaThe concept of participation has been observed over the years and has been foundto be at the centre of genuine development. If people are left out from the startingstages of development programmes, they are less likely to appreciate the initiative.In development discourse participation involves allowing people the freedom tochart their destiny by harnessing their cultural, economic and political resources inorder to achieve the goals of community development. Community participationchecks authoritarian and paternalistic ideas advanced by elite members of thesociety. Participation is analogous to Plato’s concept of participation in the Republicwhere every citizen gathers at the assembly to debate issues of mutual concern. Thewhole process of researching, auditioning, rehearsing, and constructing the open airtheatre involved the participation of the community and it took nine months – fromJanuary to September 1977. Some projects which profess participation of thecommunity don’t involve the community for such a long period. How did theanimateurs gather their data? Was there any systematic process that was followedwhich involved the community?During the rehearsal phase the community continued participating in shaping theplay. According to Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1981) during rehearsals the peasants taughteach other songs, dances and ceremony because they knew all about it. They wereparticular about the accuracy of detail. They also commented on the suitability of 6 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  7. 7. language for certain categories of characters. Ngugi wa Thiong’o reports thatcomments of this nature were common: ‘An old man cannot speak like that …If youwant him to have dignity, he has to use this or that kind of proverb’ (1981: 54).Participants were also particular about the representation of their history. Theychallenged others and the director on any incorrect positioning and representationof the facts. They checked what was being played with their own experiences duringthe unfolding of that history in reality. Working class participants were keen that thedetails of their exploitation in multinational factories be exposed. During the processof creating theatre those who worked at Bata Shoe factory worked out andexplained to others that they created wealth to cover their salaries in one day, andwould work for the rest of the month for greedy owners and shareholders whonever used their hands to create that wealth. The creative process thus became alearning process for everybody. Village residents participated by coming to watchrehearsal and commenting on what was happening. Some of them got recruited intothe acting team after they had intervened to show how such a character should havebeen portrayed. The rest of the audience applauded those who got new roles andencouraged them to continue.Participation is now a ‘catchy word’ interpreted and applied variously to servedifferent interests. Sometimes participation is considered to have taken place whena community attends a large community meeting where they are addressed by ateam of agents regarding some planned activity in their village. Development expertsand local elites do the thinking part involving designing the programme, writing theplay and monitoring progress. In the Third World this type of participation has failedas it lacks a genuine process involving the community in becoming aware of its ownsituation, socio-economic realities, real problems and their causes. This is top tobottom approach where development projects are forced on the people.The other approach to participation is the conscientisation approach. Participantsare transformed and become sentient of who they are and leads them to self-actualisation. Part of this realisation involves working with other people in anorganised way so as to achieve power through popular participation. But this begsthe question: Who is doing the awareness creation? One criticism against thisapproach to participation is the danger of exposing the community’s susceptibility toexploitative schemes by development agents. Humanism rejects the conscientisationapproach for the reason that development agents/facilitators/animateurs may foistin the community their biases and values. The process which they have broughtsimply replaces one system with another. Left in the wrong hands, conscientisationmay be a vehicle for disseminating propaganda. Humanists argue that when peopleare not involved in constructing their life-world then they become dehumanised andalienated. Humanists probably put too much emphasis on the ability of individuals tocreate a meaningful world that can bring about change. Humanists also ignore thefact that social structures and institutions can limit human behaviour and choice.Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)This refers to a practical set of approaches that are utilised to mobilise and engagecommunities. The main objective of PRA is to prioritise the needs and through a planof action tackle the needs as in the case of Kamiriithu. As a tool PRA builds on the 7 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  8. 8. principle that the community is a reservoir of local knowledge, experience, and skillswhich can be harnessed for positive change. People are agents of change and notvessels to receive change. PRA utilises local graphic representations created by thecommunity, hence legitimises local knowledge and promotes empowerment. Someof the basic principles of PRA include:  Listening not lecturing, probing instead of passing on to the next topic, being unimposing instead of important and seeking out the down-trodden and learning their concerns. In the Kamiriithu project the following issues were picked out by the animateurs as themes that needed to be tackled in the play: 1. The proletarianisation of the peasantry. This is epitomised by the Kiguunda family which is deprived of its small piece of land by a multinational company and forced to work in the company for a living. 2. The land question for which the Mau Mau went to war is not addressed by the new government. The new government acts as a comprador for foreign multinational companies. The revolution has been hijacked. 3. The deplorable working conditions of workers in multinational companies and plantations. 4. The celebration of the revolutionary history and the continuity of that struggle.  Consciously exploring and cross checking; not following a blueprint programme, but being adaptable in a learning process  Reversal of learning: learning from with and by the people, eliciting and using their criteria and categories and findings; understanding and appreciating rural people’s knowledge. The animateurs in the Kamiriithu project were unimposing, but also learnt from the process as recounted by Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The process, particularly for Ngugi wa Mirii, Kimani Gecau, and myself was one of continuous learning. Learning of our history. Learning of what goes on in the farms and plantations. Learning our language, for the peasants were essentially the guardians of the language through years of use (1981: 45).  Seeking diversity: meaning looking for and learning from exceptions, oddities, and outliers.  Local people facilitate investigation, analysis, presentation and learning by the people, thus they generate and own the outcomes.  Self critical awareness – animateurs critically examine their own behaviour such as embracing error and correcting dominant behaviour.  Sharing information.The effectiveness of PRA is dependent on how skilled a facilitator is and how wells/he allows the community to participate without rushing them through theappraisal or dominating the sessions.Many a time participation is now being commercialised with development agents as‘merchants of participation’. In this regard participatory development has becomean end rather than a means through which change can be realised in the ruralcommunities. Animateurs turn participatory development as a means to economic 8 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes
  9. 9. gain. For this reason they care less about PRA procedures and outcomes. At theKCECC the animateurs used the TfD method which also applies PRA principles. Thefunction of TfD goes beyond the theatrical event to raise issues, find solutions andspark-off collective action. Since acting is a skill that is seldom readily available in thecommunities or even among development workers, TfD is often led by a team oftheatre experts who work with different development workers to create theatricalperformances. Even though wa Thiong’o and wa Mirii are listed as the nominalauthors of I will Marry When I want (Ngaahika Ndeenda), the play was generatedthrough genuine participationIssues to considerWhat is the appropriate language? The play was in GikuyuHow immediate is the environment in terms of venue; is the problem beingaddressed etc?Participation – who is doing what? This is a key question for the project coordinatorhimselfCulture – here attention is drawn to the latent expressions of culture, which arenever apparent in casual impatient contact with a community. The adaptation ofappropriate indigenous art form can be included here. In Ngaahika Ndeenda themajor vehicles of communication were song, mime and dance. In Kenya and Africa ingeneral song and dance are central to nearly all rituals celebrating rain, birth,circumcision, marriage, funerals and ordinary ceremonies. They were not used asdecorations in the I Will Marry When I want, but as the integral part ofconversations. They were used as part of the structure and movement of the actors.Song, dance and mime were used to recreate the past and the future. They werealso used as part of the continuation of dialogue and action.Time – what is the appropriate time for working with the community? For theKamiriithu project the readings, discussions and rehearsals were timed to keep inrhythm with the lives of the people. Sometimes the community met on Saturday andSunday afternoon in order not to interfere with church attendance in the mornings. 9 © Samuel Ravengai.2010. Community Theatre Lecture Notes

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