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PRACTICAL APPROACHES

 

Straddling the disciplines:

 

PPP is not a wedding between two similar, but separate, approaches and techniques. Rather, PPP is the child of the marriage between research 'process' and performance 'product'. It contains the seeds and elements of both parents but stands apart as an ongoing cycle of activities. The sum may be larger than the parts.

These Participatory Performance Practices cover the ground between

  • initial community research,
  • workshopped explorations of its outcomes
  • performances sharing these outcomes with the community and beyond

  • and any resultant cultural action that might lead to a change in community status, attitudes, behaviour and conditions.

The final target, as in all TFD would be an empowered community who have

  • explored and celebrated their identity through performance
  • expressed and analysed their concerns and difficulties

through their performance, with their artiste/performers.

The first stage or level of a PPP campaign works with a community looking inwards at their own lives, social and cultural. Typically this would lead to a clarified and critical understanding of local (and broader) issues. A performance may be created to share new perspectives with the rest of the community and this cultural action may well foster some change in local attitude, behaviour or circumstance. Such a change, local and palpable, builds confidence and opens up public debate. And what is more, it paves the way for further and bolder changes and social action on broader and more penetrating issues.

Moving on from there, the local performers may be in a position to look outwards with the community, addressing neighbours who share the same conditions and also those makers of policy who hold power over their daily lives.

And then? Start again or continue the PPP cycle with a revised focus, building on the advances already made.

clic for the PPP diagrammeThe whole process goes in a circle and comes back on itself to start all over again at a new level or with different members of the community (see the diagram). It is rarely appropriate just to work up a performance, do it once and disappear from that community never to be seen again.

We are of course aware of funding constraints through all of this, but these are battles to be fought and hopefully won. In these pages we are laying out the targets and ideal circumstances for a PPP campaign.

 

From actor to facilitator - and back again

The PPP methodology was developed specifically in training existing performers to incorporate participatory research and collaborative approaches to the TFD work they have been commissioned to carry out. There is of course nothing exclusive about this, and indeed a TFD practitioner lodged specifically with one cultural or development organisation would (I would say 'should') operate with the same principles in all her work.

Whether a group of actors will still present a play of their own, based on their own findings and perceptions after a PPP campaign, will depend on local circumstances. Performing artists need to perform and if their TFD work becomes a separate altruistic activity it may well reduce their enthusiasm and commitment to the work. Indeed performance groups who have researched through PPP generating performances and debates within communities on this or that issue, will be well informed and ready to create their own work.

In such a performance they might serve as advocates for the communities they represent, in contexts and for a wider audience than those communities could otherwise access. There are advantages and disadvantages in this. Self-advocacy, by the people themselves, in performance or otherwise is likely to be the more powerful, but access is not always easy and there may be many circumstances where the actors' performance would serve the purpose.

Furthermore such a performance could serve to introduce a performance group to a new community. Such groups often begin with cultural evenings where both parties share their dances and songs. This opens up the areas the can share and work together on, it reveals the talents of community and performer/facilitators alike.

Of course you need to beware of a performance on topics specified by outsiders, even NGO partners. There is a grave danger of begging the question, of setting up agendas that bypass issues the community might otherwise have prioritised.

Typically a group of performers might divide into pairs, working in different of the same community sectors (old, young, women, disabled, rich, poor etc.) or in neighbouring villages or geographical parts of a compound. Work would then be shared at the appropriate moment on the campaign - whether through mini-festival or through integrated workshops or any other way that might be appropriate to the sharing/exchanging of ideas and strategies towards change and the equitable making of decisions.

 

Looking Inward and Looking Outwards.

Loosely however a PPP campaign would fall into these two basic sections. Starting by some social and individual introspection, Looking Inwards explores the community itself within workshops and perhaps local performances including the 7W described below. Once individuals and community have addressed their own issues and hopefully resolved some local problems, they are ready to Look Outwards. This would include performances for neighbouring communities who share similar problems, public presentations to policy makers and wider audiences.

So Looking Inwards is related to the old collection of base line research and 'data' after all. But its focus is on the partners, and the outcomes of the research are recorded and expressed by the people in performance, not by the the facilitator in her notebook.

And there is another dimension too.

The Disabled Group in Ng'ombe found that they were able to voice their aspirations through their performance. Through their work with Kamoto Community Arts, they had seen that their local community were themselves practising a policy of discrimination against them. Unwritten, but a policy nonetheless. And their play addressed these local policy makers. As a result they were able to see some small changes in the way people behaved towards them later. These small changes are the building blocks of confidence and empowerment.

Subsequent to these early stages, performances that 'Look Outwards' might seek to address policy makers in higher corridors of power. But that implies levels of strength and confidence that may not have been available at first.

With a circular pattern as I am recommending looking inwards probably never really stops altogether, even when the activities have progressed to an outward focus.

 

 

How to set about it?

The Answer is blowin in the wind.

There is no cookery book of recipes for PPP, it should be a voyage of discovery experimenting with and adapting the ideas to the circumstances and context in which you might be working. These pages are intended as guidelines. It is in that spirit that I offer here just a couple of key exercises and a few examples of exercises that support or introduce them.

Of course, there are excellent manuals of operation for participatory community theatre as well as PRA and other action research methods.

The danger is in following these slavishly like a novice cook who sticks to five grams of this and only a pinch of that. Just as the key to the work itself is improvisation, so the key to the process is adaptability to each and every set of people and places, to every new context.

Likewise, I am not going to refer to warm up and ice breaking exercises here. These should be chosen appropriately to suit the mood and composition of the group, along with the context and the aim of the workshop.

The exercises might tend to be used in one section or another, but are not confined. As always it depends how the PPP campaign is designed. Most of the exercises continue to be useful throughout the campaign. There are some examples later on.

 

go to body page 2: PPP in Practice'

 

 

Performance at Pharping in Nepal

.. Subsequent to the first PPP workshop in Lusaka, Kamoto began a project with a group of disabled young people in Ng'ombe compound.
.. When we came to work again with Kamoto the disabled group had been performing their play around the neighbourhood. The play expressed their own frustrations in the face of attitudes towards their disablement. It also voiced some of their hopes and aspirations.
.. In support of this and to further the research / performance process of PPP we went into the local school and began a series of workshops with the children in a range of classes. With the children our fieldworkers prepared improvised performances that explored and expressed their own respective attitudes.
.. These different perspectives were then brought together and shared in a mini-festival. The result was a fruitful exchange and some revelations too. The school kids had been frank and honest in their portrayals of their own prejudices and this led to the dismantling of some local barriers and a new openness between the kids.
.. A small breakthrough perhaps, and to sustain it will be the next task. But the issue continues to be a cultural problem and theatre is a cultural tool ......