PPP: the Product
Many of the workshop participants in the Nepal programme were seasoned street performers. All of them were committed to creating their own performances, based on information given to them by the NGOs whose messages and priorities would be the subject of their plays. Only some of them were used to doing research and collecting their own data from the communities they would be visiting. Furthermore they have good reason, for the local NGOs often prefer to brief the performers themselves.
With the participants' collaboration we developed their own model of PPP that seeks at least to reduce the NGOs' emphasis on the final product alone. It insists on Participatory Research within target communities as a necessary stage in the creation of a final performance which should be flexible enough to reflect current shifts in attitude and generate discussion and participation from the audience. But we had to allow for the presentation of a final performance product.
Even without the 'mini-festival' the outcomes of the research process (local perspectives, stories, anecdotes, proverbs, games, dances) are digested through improvisation and a final, perhaps interactive, play-format is devised with community participation and based on local cultural traditions. This could still take the form of the larger street-play "products" popular with participants and populace alike.
If there are to be discreet performance pieces touring to different communities, then these should be complemented by further local workshops - the day before or even an hour before the performance. The group should also chat with members of the general public to get the feel of the people regarding the issue explored in the play. Any specific local reality, opinion or even anecdote thus revealed should then find its way into the performance. This would help to consolidate any feeling of ownership of issues and help to sustain any social action that the event may help to bring about.
After the performance the group should remain within the community for some time, talking to the audience members more informally. They will pick up other responses and ideas - these are no less valuable than public responses and may be the only available way to get to hear the opinions of the more reticent members of the community. This is all part of the greater research process and the plays should be ready to be continually modified in the light of any new and important insights.
Our two-week workshop had not afforded enough time to work closely and directly with partner communities. However, the work focused on explorations of the participants' personal experiences of Gender and Human Rights inequities and it culminated in a series of performances in the village of Pharping just beyond the Kathmandu basin. These were based on their own first-hand knowledge of Gender issues and aimed to share these with the community in performance. As (trainee) facilitators their task was to generate a public discussion and encourage interventions from the audience. These were first attempts and they had been filled with trepidation and doubts about their skills in engaging directly with a random gathering of people. Nevertheless both audience and participants alike felt the new participatory approach to be refreshing and positive.
Back in England after the first workshop programme in Kathmandu, I received this letter:
"Before this training we don't use facilitating method. We went to [village] and gave message to audience about our programme and briefing about the topics of theatre and start to play. At the end of theatre we examine or observe the feeling of the audience, salute and return back. After this training I know and obey technique. First of all I will perform the research about the problem of community and dramatised it. I will encourage the community people to participate in Street Theatre after a small workshop …. After completing the Theatre, I will facilitate about the topics and interact with the audiences about their feeling, opinions and suggestions. Thank you." Binaya N. Aryal, SVHIC, Chitwan, Nepal
The second and third Phases of the programme have continued to engage with rural community partners so that performers, community members and NGO officers will all be able to participate, further develop and customise this emergent methodology. The Harare conference It was highlighted a common dilemma which was no doubt already apparent to those who could see it, in the work of TFD groups like Wan Smolbag and countless others world-wide.
The workshops in Zambia and Nepal addressed the question, but the PPP methodology that is emerging must be taken as a changeable feast. Every circumstance is of course unique and every implementation of the principles of PPP must be redefined specifically for local circumstances and culture. By the same token PPP suffuses all the project work undertaken by cdcArts.
Alex Mavrocordatos, Jan 2000.