Manifestations of Play as Aesthetic in African Theatre for Development
MetadataShow full item record
The shift away from an exogenous or 'top-down' approach towards an endogenous or 'bottom-up' approach to theatre for development practice in contemporary development discourse has necessitated a search for a people-centred aesthetic paradigm. The 'endogenisation' of theatre for development recognises that processes of empowerment and transformation are internal to the mechanisms of social structures and cannot be entirely dependent on external social intervention. This study explored manifestations of play as a people-based aesthetic discourse in African theatre for development. The study was based on a view of play as a cultural phenomenon that was being applied for development communication in African popular theatre. The ethnography of performance was adopted as a suitable methodological framework for investigating play as an artistic medium with close links to the people's lived experience. The study made use of illustrations selected from theatre for development workshops carried out in Zimbabwe with comparisons drawn from other developing countries in Africa and beyond. Following the views of play theorists like Johan Huizinga (1955), Hans-Georg Gadamer (1975), Gregory Bateson (1976), Victor Turner (1983), Don Handelman (1990) and Brian Sutton-Smith (2002), the study examined how theatre for development practice can be framed by play as a popular discursive strategy. Play allows the co-players or participants to engage in spontaneous activity thereby allowing them room to articulate their own point of view. By selecting situations from real life, participants construct a fictional narrative giving form to imagination. The resulting performance creates a performer-audience encounter that is both real and not real. The mimetic action must be seen as 'revising' rather than 'copying' from the existing situation. It creates new frames of existence or 'restored behaviours' that act as rehearsals for action. The whole playing process is experienced as a metaxis of seemingly irreconciliable opposites - the real and the fictional. Yet it is precisely this metaxic encounter facilitated through play that creates possibilities for a real encounter with development. Such transformation may occur either simultaneously within play itself or subsequent to it. Thus the play frame affords the co-players an aesthetic space upon which they can experiment with ways and means of altering the prevailing challenges of existence. Theatre for development creates space for participants to assess their needs and fashion their priorities with a view to change their unfavourable circumstances. The fun or joy associated with play wields the power to absorb and move the players to another state of being. Once they have attained the sense of freedom created within the play frame, participants feel liberated from the fears, constraints and obligations of ordinary reality. The consequences of their actions are minimized as their actions are camouflaged within the paradox of play. In this study, I examined how play discourse enabled popular theatre practitioners and participants to address quite sensitive issues without threatening the social structure. The ordering and shaping of play through workshops became a way of making 'something' come into being. The workshop performances acted as discursive frames for creating alternative realities for the participants. In short, the study attempted to come up with a conceptualisation of play as an aesthetic whose frames were situated within the people's language of performance. It concludes that theatre for development practice could be made more effective by drawing its aesthetic paradigms from the people who are the subject and object of development. In this way, it becomes a people's theatre that never ceases to 'develop' but allows participants to 'dream' the impossible and perhaps make it come true.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Vocational, Technology and Arts Education
Item Access Status
endogenisation of theatre