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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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Chapter 4 - Theatre Action Research: A Democracy of the Ground 121


Chapter Four Theatre Action Research: A Democracy of the Ground It invites: it belongs to all and is costless, familiar, fun and easy to alter […] paper is private; the ground is public. Paper empowers those that hold the pen; the ground empowers those who are weak, marginalised and illiterate. There is a democracy of the ground. — Chambers, 1997, p. 152 A person who rides a donkey does not know the ground is hot. — Proverb from Bawku West region of Ghana in Goyder, Davies, and Williamson, 1998, p. 31 We make the road by walking. — Horton and Freire, 1990 This chapter moves from the specifics of past practice to an advocacy of pos- sible practice. It turns from analysing the particular to outlining a dif ferent way of understanding applied-theatre projects more generally. It argues for a shift in the way we conceive of applying theatre and makes the case for it to be understood as a social-research method. Although this is not new, it is rarely explicitly proposed within the applied-theatre community. Theatre in this chapter is thus not a social intervention but the method of identifying possible and assessing existing interventions. Theatre is the research method itself, not the method to be researched. This chapter proposes a form of theatre action research for future projects, rather than investigating actual initiatives. It moves from the specific heat and dust of Ouagadougou to the general heat of the ground. It is inspired both by the quotations above and by the demands...

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