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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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Introduction: ‘Making a Break for it’ 1


1 knowledged in an apparent desire to belong to this new field rather than maintain the status of outsider. The new lines in the sand gave a number of years of comfort. They eased my bleary eyes and started to take me beyond my initial bewilderment. In 1992, with my colleague Paul Heritage, I set up the Theatre in Prisons and Probation or TIPP Centre, and through that organisation we created pro- grammes on of fending behaviour, anger management, drugs, bullying and employment (Thompson, 1999a). Each interacted with the practices of the related fields and sought to enhance them with the techniques of participa- tory theatre. All the projects borrowed from a radical theatre practice with techniques predominantly drawn from the work of Augusto Boal (Boal, 1992, 1995) but now adapted to the requirements of cognitive behavioural group work practice. In an anger-management course created for Greater Manchester Probation Service, for example, we used the tableaux work of Boal’s Image Theatre (Boal, 1992, p. 164), but shifted its focus so that it was used to reveal the thought processes behind each moment leading to violence. Image Theatre gave groups a controlled method for examin- ing the building of anger. In the of fending behaviour workshop, we used images to break up narratives around crime, and then small Forum Theatre scenes (Boal, 1992, p. 17) for the groups to practice ‘new behaviours’. Boal was in the background and the exercises were explained with a criminal justice rehabilitation vocabulary. We adapted the...

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