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Applied Theatre

Bewilderment and Beyond


James Thompson

Applied Theatre: Bewilderment and Beyond explores the practice of theatre in communities and social institutions with marginalised groups. It shifts between contexts and countries to examine different ways that theatre has been applied to a wide range of social issues. Theatre projects in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom are analysed to argue for a complex and questioning view of the practice. Initiatives in prisons, developing countries, war situations and participatory research projects become the sites to interrogate the claims that applied theatre can be a theatre for social change.
Many practitioners and researchers have witnessed powerful applied theatre projects but nonetheless struggled to articulate the reasons for the projects’ success. This book uses the questions inspired by that perplexity to create a case for applied theatre as a major area of contemporary theatre practice.


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Preface: ‘Applied’, A Preface to ‘Theatre’ xiii


Preface: ‘Applied’, A Preface to ‘Theatre’ ‘Applied theatre’ has become an increasingly popular term, used by theatre practitioners from a diverse range of settings and countries to categorise or explain their work. It has emerged in response to practice in a number of dif ferent social policy or educational contexts and it is grounded in a history of theatre that has sought to operate beyond the boundaries of theatre buildings. Here in the UK it is also a product of the practicalities of creating an engaged, participatory theatre in the particularly brutal and unforgiving economic environment of the 1980s and 1990s. Applied thea- tre developed under the combined ef fect of a harsh funding climate and the post-cold-war impact of postmodernism. A desire to take ‘theatre to the people’ was divided into creating theatre with a multitude of peoples (prisoners, disabled groups, the elderly, children and so forth) and ideal- ism was tempered with a pragmatic search for sites where theatre practice could gain non-arts financial support. In 2002, alongside the involvement of companies and individuals, applied theatre has also become firmly estab- lished inside the higher-education sector, with the term appearing in the titles of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, centres for research in the UK and Australia and modules in universities from North America to Sri Lanka. It is therefore practised, taught and researched without, I would argue, commensurate attention being given to understanding its meaning. This book is therefore part of a necessary debate about what it has...

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