Theatre as a Vehicle for Social Change
There is a growing awareness on the part of theatre workers of the value of theatre and performance art in relation to social change and development. Theatre is increasingly being used as a tool for communicating information and ideas and to spur debate, discussion and bring about conflict resolution.
In recognition of the role that theatre plays in development, World Theatre Day is celebrated annually on 27 March.
This day was created in 1961 by an international NGO called International Theatre Institute (ITI). The idea behind World Theatre Day arises from one of ITI’s aims, namely, promoting the, “International exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between people.”
To mark the day, an international message, traditionally written by a theatre personality, is circulated. This year’s message was written by Mexican Playwright, Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda. In his message entitled A Ray of Hope, Banda asserts that, “Theatre is the first art to confront conflict, shadows and silence to make words, movement, lights and life surge forth.”
For some of South Africa’s civil society organisations, theatre and development can be understood to mean one and the same thing. Manya Gittel, the Director of Tsogang Theatre Education Development Association (TTEDA), is of the view that by using theatre and dramatizing problems faced by society, people and communities can reach constructive solutions to their various problems and disputes.
To facilitate development, theatre can be used as a tool when broaching sensitive socio-economic issues in a non-threatening and non-intimidating manner. Jaqueline Dommisse, the Performing Arts Manager for Arts and Media Access Centre (AMAC), maintains that although theatre does entertain and educate it also plays a crucial role of raising those issues that do not make people comfortable.
Gittel calls on Augusto Boal’s techniques, Theatre of the Oppressed, while talking to the issue of theatre for development. For her theatre of the oppressed, “Is a reservoir of techniques that can be used by people in difficult situations to help them solve their problems and to transform their society.”
Ultimately, theatre in this particular instance is used by the oppressed person as a means of enacting their marginalisation and oppression. It is through the enactment that issues such as racism, sexism, HIV/AIDS and other conflict related issues are aired and brought to the community for discussion and proactive intervention, thereby allowing for effective social change to come about in communities and organisations.
Vincenza Davis, the Artistic Director for City at Peace, says that, “Theatre is a rehearsal for life.” She states that theatre can be used to teach leadership skills and talks to different ways of reaching non-violent conflict resolutions.
Her thoughts reiterate those raised by Phyllis Klotz, the Co-founder of the Sibikwa Community Theatre Project, who argues that, “Theatre raises issues for discussion that people find difficult to talk about, and in the process, helps them find solutions.”
This particular day was celebrated internationally by theatre organisations that realise that there is great potential in theatre for development. By getting people to listen, think and debate about certain topics that they normally shy away from, theatre helps to bring us a step closer to exploring both our own personal development as well as the broader concerns which impact on the development of the communities that we belong to, until, eventually, we are able to grasp the importance of our actions on society as a whole.
This article was produced by Badumile Duma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT.
NGOs Working in Theatre and Development