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in Practice


Key points




IMPROVISATION - the bottom line

Keep it that way as long as is possible. Even final performances should be flexible enough to be allow for missing actors and accommodate new ideas or changing local realities. Often the nuances of meaning which lead to new perceptions are a direct result of a shift in content or emphasis within a performance.

When working on issues and creating plays that will be performed by a community group (as opposed to the actors/facilitators):

  • get used to switching parts around - don't create plays that use ALL the members of the community group. At the very least, this develops the skill of stepping in when someone is absent.

  • More importantly still, each performer gives a part a different nuance of meaning. If they take the improvised story into a new dimension, that may reveal further aspects and attitudes towards the issue being explored. The facilitators are listening to these 'messages between the lines' of the improvisations and it adds to the richness of the research process and outcomes.

  • Going further you can get members to play each of the roles to see how they feel and where they take the performance. A man playing the wife's role for example, or a sex-worker playing a client's part. Such exercises inform the performances and are research in themselves. They have a very important part in the PPP cycle.

Facilitation skills:

"only everyone can know the truth" (Goethe)

(aside- please, anyone who knows the exact source for this quote …)

Prashnakarta - the one who asks questions.

That's how we referred to the facilitator in Nepal. So often trainee facilitators tend to use up precious moments talking and even lecturing to the audience. Especially if they are trained teachers. I once asked Adrian Jackson what the secret of the good Joker was, and he replied that the Joker must really want to know what the audience members think about the subject. There should be no preconceptions about the correct solution to the problem. Difficult to do, but an excellent target. And you can't find out anything while you yourself are talking .

New facilitators often find it hard to ask the right questions. Indeed many find it hard not to speak when there is a silence - to explain again or merely to pass over the question. But that silence is the space, the gap that might have allowed an audience intervention!

Sometimes a disappointed facilitator may even close down a session claiming that the audience didn't respond, when in fact they didn't get time to think and formulate their question or response.

Opportunism can be a virtue ...

As always, the facilitator needs to be both diligent and opportunistic, ready to point up shifts in meaning and explore them. The midwife doesn't normally know what kind of baby will emerge - but once the process begins, she knows what action to take. There was a good example of this in Nepal, though it faltered at the final step.

Please clic to read this one.

And in Namibia a passing comment within an improvised scenario, about access to garden tools, was picked up and explored by the facilitator. It led to the 'Self-Oppression play'. This was a forum piece that was later performed at the launch of the Youth Enterprise Scheme (YES!) that brought together the, often unemployed, young farmers of South Namibia..

Click here to bring in a brief account of this.


performance 'codes' as a starting point

Many of the street performance groups in Nepal tend to follow their own tradition of producing hour long scripted works (with a message) for performance in the streets.

Yes, this is in keeping with some traditional drama forms. But after an hour in the sun the audience is not likely to be ready for a spirited and perhaps sensitive discussion - which is not a traditional activity, quite the opposite. Particularly if the question that is asked is "what did you understand from the play?". People are naturally shy to speak in public and often do need to be coaxed to speak out before a large audience.

After all the whole process is still concerned with empowerment. Sometimes just speaking at all is difficult and recognition is due to those who are brave enough to do so. The act of speaking out is an empowerment in itself. Interventions from the audience should always be recognised, even applauded.

Another reason for the small performance codes of the 7W and the 'five minute play'.

The 7W exercise described below is based on simple depictions of circumstances drawn from the community. Asking about them can be more specific and is easier than asking what inference people have drawn from a heavyweight performance.

The device of moving forwards and backwards in time looks for causes and consequences without having to articulate this as a concept. The facilitator can always return to any image in a short scene or still picture especially when it has been created as a picture of a crossroad in someone's life. Where there are two ways, both can be explored or we can examine why the hard road was not possible , why things did not change - or could not.

All is based upon a visual picture, responses are explored in the same way - dialogue is physicalised.

Ideas of change are hard to formulate. The facilitator is a midwife, helping difficult ideas to find breath and life. [S]he needs to learn the art of 'not-doing'. Rather than yanking the baby out into the air the midwife should encourage the process of birth to happen at its own speed.

Mini-festivals and local performance events

The 5 minute 'codes' - performed by facilitators or workshop and community volunteers - can be woven together into fuller performances for local presentation within the community and eventually beyond it (looking outwards).

If there has been work with different sectors of the community, or neighbouring communities then a local performance event, or mini-festival, might be an excellent way to get together and share the performances which will each express different perspectives of related topics. Or different views of the local reality. As we did in collaboration with Kamoto Community Arts in Ng'ombe, Lusaka in 2001.

The festivals are designed to explore the differences in perceptions and ideas as formulated in workshop and performance with different sectors of the community. This may well include performances celebrating the identity of a particular group.

There is need for celebration. Development workers with their eyes fixed beadily on issues and difficulties may even begin to stifle creativity and misrepresent the true diversity of their partners' lives.

The starting point of development is often to re-establish personal dignity - empowerment. In Kathmandu we worked, all too briefly, with a group of children who had been rescued from a life of near slavery in the carpet factories renowned for child-labour and appalling conditions. Now they were being looked after: they had food and shelter, they had clothes to wear and they were going to school. They were happy.

Yes they were ready to talk a little about where they had been - but the details only came out, later, in their play. And the performance did not wish to focus on how awfully they had been treated. Instead it told a story of hope - with some plans for retribution. In the process of regaining their own confidence and identity they preferred to celebrate with us their common joy and plans for the future. That is empowering in itself. Digging about in their traumatised past would surely have been destructive.

and they should be transformative events in themselves ...

These min-festivals should, ideally, be transformative or liminal events. The performers at least should emerge from the experience changed in some way - be it in dignity, pride and solidarity. Just as the disabled and able kids in Ng'ombe after their mini-festival.

Of course, it may not be necessary to run a whole performance festival like the one in Ng'ombe for this - it may be enough, for example, just to bring all the partners together in a local workshop.

Sometimes these events will 'uncover the covered' (Pintile Davids, RISE Namibia), revealing areas/issues or points of view that had not been expressed in any other medium.

Later this year cdcArts will embark on a similar programme in Greece where we will work with teachers from a range of schools. Some of these have almost exclusively Albanian pupils, others Gypsies, Afghanis and other marginalised ands refugee groups. Others of course are Greek. But the task will be training the teachers in the use of PPP techniques within the classroom and the end result will be a mini-festival where the different schools (their pupils) will meet and share their points of view in performance and workshop.

go to body page 3: 'Building blocks'



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 ......