WORKING WITH PERFORMERS
PPP exists as a discipline within TFD, distinct in its fusion of research process and performance product.
More often than not, TFD is used as a tool, whether it be for extension worker or community member - and sometimes the priorities get confused. And more often than not, NGOs will invite existing performers to create plays to illustrate or reflect local realities and 'solutions' to local or universal obstacles.
PPP workshops have trained performing artists as researchers and facilitators, so that their performances are built with the collaboration of community partners, and the emphasis shifts onto the process whereby community actors are allowed their own freedom to create and express reality through their own eyes.
Almost all of the PPP workshop members in Nepal and in Zambia regard themselves as performers. Many of the Zambians had had to fight for their status as artist.
So the relevance of the Arts to life and to the community was already understood by the participants. Consequently the primary focus of the work so far has been on the place of TFD as a tool, fostering the expression of local concerns and generating some critical understanding of local and outside issues. The workshops also explored the processes of empowerment that brought community partners to the point of raising their voice effectively in workshop and public drama, articulating and expressing their own concerns beyond local boundaries.
But for those village voices to be effective, they need that 'artistic' expression which our cultural workers were so proud of. Our TFD must engage with culture - we have always maintained this. And that means incorporating mythic realities and the imagination. For without the power of myth and history, and without the imagination, putative change will be unimaginable and possibly without roots.
So recent and forthcoming workshops in Zambia are looking more closely at the transformative power of local traditional forms of cultural expression. This is not just for their form, but for their liminal advantages over the TFD work that the same cultural workers had been practicing. It was the group who noticed and celebrated the commitment and concentration in the body of the Vibusa dancer whose ceremony we were privileged to have attended at Ngombe near Lusaka.
Our task will be to try to imbue our PPP with that kind of liminal quality that no longer represents or points towards, but actually embodies, a qualitative shift. We don't yet know how this will be done . It has happened by itself in Kolo and in Gibeon and in Embere'ui, it is inherent in Vibusa and other cultural ceremonies that have the weight of history on their side. Perhaps we dream.There are many who have travelled the path, from the flawed immersions of the Living Theatre in Mexico, Chicago, Morocco and in Italy, to the Nixtayaleros theatre-farm-commune in Nicaragua with its lifestyle theatre echoed in cultural performances, to the Kaliwat Theatre Collective in the Philippines.
The dream is quite plausible. To this end we have focused on shifting the emphasis from performing artist to researcher, facilitator and collaborator - or ATOR as the members of Kaliwat Theatre Collective describe themselves:
And so we come back to the Chalimbana workshop and its synthesis between art[ist] and education[alist]. And the imbalance inherent in the 'data collection' model, the one that became the norm.
PARTICIPATORY PERFORMANCE PRACTICES (PPP) casts outside performing troupes in the role of facilitators, integrating research and community collaboration at all levels in working towards cultural action and performance within a Community Development initiative.
It allows community artists to tell their own story, highlight their own concerns and develop their own strategies amongst themselves, with their neighbours or with those policy makers in the wider world who have power over their lives.
At the same time it still allows for the outside facilitator/artists to weave their research outcomes into their own performance that can be used in turn to generate a recurrent and parallel cycle of PPP activities - another PPP campaign.
ENTER THE BRITISH COUNCIL
Let's go back a bit. In 1997 the British Council held a seminar in Harare to explore further the potential of broadening their arts policy to include the Arts in Development. The outcome of that week of papers, presentations and discussions was the construction, with the Council's Governance section, of a guideline document on Culture for Development, and some support for Culture and Development initiatives around the world.
cdcArts' series of training programmes in Africa and in Asia that evolved PPP were born out of this. So also was at least one of our he academic links - that between cdcArts at the School of Community and Performing Arts (King Alfred's College) in the UK and the University of Zambia. All the work aims to train trainers and generate an improved participatory model of practice in the field.
I attended the seminar along with an impressive array of arts officers, community artists, academics and development workers, from within the region and beyond.
Some key issues emerged for me.
Different Players Play Different Rules
As I already suggested, TFD-in-practice has tended towards the presentation of developmental messages by outside performing groups to community audiences who did not necessarily ask for these communications. It is the task of most Development workers to address specific issues and they have generally welcomed the notion of playlets that would pass on their viewpoints and propose their solutions. For their own part local performing groups have been glad of a chance to help their community, or of a job that used their skills as artists.
During the seminar the potential and mutual benefit of fusing process and production was not given much time. It is an elusive concept. Research and performance are perennially viewed as separate parts of a mechanical sequence, not as a marriage whose offspring would take on its own characteristics. A subtle point it may be, but it is the bottom line of a truly participatory process. The data collection model was still alive and current.
Notions of Participation and Empowerment have long suffused the rhetoric of Community Development, but the practice lags behind.
By and large TFD in India, Africa and the Pacific is still run on conventional message-bearing terms, often using existing groups of performers, storytellers, puppeteers and musicians. Indeed, in Nepal where some of the NGOs actually discouraged a participatory approach from their theatrical messengers, one of our participant groups even had plays written for them by their International NGO employers, complete with several messages all writ large in the one dramatic oeuvre.
It was to address this lack of participatory basis that the Council embarked on the two programmes that have given rise to the PPP methodology.
INFORMATION = KNOWLEDGE?
Clearly there is a need for the transfer of information.
Freire never denied that teachers had knowledge to offer their students - just that there should be a 'co-intentional' approach to the learning situation. All participants had to have a mutual interest in the exchange.
The islanders of Vanuatu are hungry for information and the poorer among them have almost no way of getting any. Wan Smolbag are interesting in this context, for they manage to serve up a prodigious -and necessary - diet of informational plays, which are devoured eagerly by the island audiences.
But food must be digested before it provides nutriment and it is that process of digestion (call it critical understanding if you will) that we must foster. To do this we need to go further than simple demonstrations of biological functions, or the mechanics of any development issue, focusing rather on the process of change and the difficulties associated with changing ways of life.
TRAINING OF TRAINERS
The prevalence of artist-centred development activities and the gap in mutual understanding between artists and NGO officers pointed towards a dual focus for cdcArts in future training and consultancy work.
There should be Training of Trainers programmes for existing performance troupes (including musicians and other performing arts media) and there should be some effort made to reach the desk officers and field-workers of the commissioning and funding organisations.
The former is generally addressed across the board of cdcArts' programmes and in many cases, those of our MATFD students.
and TRAINING OF DESK OFFICERS
Prior to the inception of these programs, cdcArts began a series of workshop/seminars at DFID, the British Council and more recently with Michael Etherton at Save the Children Fund in London. Workshop seminars were aimed at programme and desk officers, so that they could better grasp of the issues and potentials of TFD not simply as a medium of participatory communication, but as a process that fosters human dignity, and therefore empowerment, as well as the capacity to imagine, and therefore embrace, change.
As part of the Nepal program an afternoon seminar was run for the desk officers of the NGOs who were related to the participant artists. Sadly this proved inadequate. A similar event is projected for the Zambian context, but will be handled with the full participation of the workshop group as facilitators and organisers, rather than as part of the workshop itself, facilitated by the expat trainers.
and Why anotherTLA (Three-Letter-Acronym)?
There is nothing specifically new about the elements that make up PPP. It is a package and an approach whose distinction must be clearly articulated at this point.
Many performing groups and collectives used to 'immerse' themselves in the community - to varying degrees - as preparation (research) among the community long before the likes of Jeremy Swift and Robert Chambers began their own campaigns to make development work, and research in particular, more participatory.
The examples are wide ranging, from PETA and Kaliwat in the Philippines, ATC and MECATE and to some extent Nixtayaleros in Nicaragua, Sistren and Groundwork Theatre in the West Indies, ACPC and Proshika in South Asia to SOS Sahel and many others in all parts of Africa but also including the Living Theatre in their more social moods in the USA, Mexico and Europe.
But practitioners of a true synthesis of the participatory practices are too few and far between, and reality (economic, budgetary reality frequently comes between intentions and implementation.
So we prefer to articulate the parameters for those who wish to discriminate, to signal the principles on which we base our work.
It is easy for a busy NGO with little time or skills in cultural development methods to commission a handy theatre group to produce a performance around a given topic. If that theatre group is unfamiliar with the discourses of TFD and PPP the results could be disastrous.
I mentioned the youth group in Namibia who were happy to create a play recommending a shift in sexual behaviour that they (said they) were not prepared to make themselves.
But the National Youth Council (NYC) didn't make a mistake in asking the group to do the play. They were local kids empowered by the commission and it was a sound policy of the NYC's. But the dangers of such top down commissions are evident, and the budget certainly didn't allow for the sort of PPP research into performance campaigns that we are calling for.
At the Harare conference some NGO and government partners had already expressed doubts and misconceptions as to the true potential of TFD. One desk officer, very close to home, said that they had no budget for the Arts, being confined to poverty alleviation, agriculture, food security etc. There was no understanding of the Arts as a social mechanism, 'social sculpture', whose very purpose is communication and hence dialogue in regard to any or all of society's conditions.
At present, there is a feeling among some powerful development agencies in the SADC region that TFD has not been a successful tool, and is being actively discouraged. If these agencies still perceive TFD as a (top-down) means of delivering an unsolicited message, then they are right - it will not be effective.
However we are now operating against a new resistance, from people who do not embrace the role of culture, art and imagination in social development and change. They may not be aware of the discourse, or have considered and rejected it. And they may have rejected it on the basis of reports from those who have used or seen TFD in its top-down manifestation as a living bulletin board.
So we have preferred to use a fresh title. It is a pity we chose an acronym that in UK has now been taken over by the government's talk agents (Public-Private-Partnerships) but we have nothing to do with these. I would have preferred the title given by the Nepali groups - Antarkryatmak Anusandan Prashtuti - which means simply 'shared research and performance' - but you will agree that wouldn't be easy either. They have stayed with AAP.
The term PPP arose directly out of discussions during the first week's seminar in Zambia, where the group included practicing musicians as well as theatre workers. We sought a neutral term, which would include all forms of performance.
With a new title comes the opportunity for a redefinition. NGO officers with no background in culture and the arts can be forgiven for their top down assumptions. And if they have regarded TFD as a handy way to get your message delivered, then they will continue to use it thus. At best they will allow conventional data collection by the theatre group to provide the story line of the play and some details.
But they will not automatically realise that there could be a deeper dialogical relationship with the communities, a relationship that can yield more subtle and far reaching results.
Almost all of the workshop participants had experienced difficulties with their sponsors' low expectations of the potential of TFD, related to the above and to the issue of 'resource mobilisation' (their term).
There are financial implications in the implementation of a fully-fledged PPP campaign. Performer/facilitators will need extra time at the beginning while researching and preparing their campaign.
Participants complained of the lack of sustained interaction with their community partners since NGOs still prefer to have them do a performance and then go away without follow up. A 'proper' PPP campaign has a circular or return-beat form; this has the performer-facilitators regularly returning to the community for a further cycle of activities developing and exploring related issues and other local realities ever more fruitfully.
A new title that signals a renewed perspective and a refreshed methodology is, at the very least, an opportunity to enter into a new debate with our partners. At best it should pave the way for a broader collaboration both with sponsors and with community partners.
Their interest in immersion and participation notwithstanding, most of the groups cited above still retained an artist-centred approach. They were after all, artists themselves. Their vocation cannot be denied and their drive to practice TFD is different from that of the community member driven by her own commitment to changing her own social reality. So there is a contradiction.
PPP attempts to recognise a tension here, to recognise the advantages of the skilled performance over the different advantages of the 'home-movies' performance by community actors - AND VICE VERSA. PPP tries to reconcile the potential of both artist-centred and people-centred TFD practices and to articulate a coherent approach that can form the basis of continuing discourse and practice of participatory theatre for development.
NGOs love issues, but people have stories" (Tim Prentki)
While critical understanding requires you to step back and understand, (liminal) processes of 'becoming' ask you to enter and understand.
PPP also looks at the role of art in Development. Is it merely a lubricant allowing change to happen, a digestif allowing cold information to be cooked and digested and turned to intellectual nourishment and critical understanding? Or does it have a more subtle role as well, in those transformational explorations that cross from theatre into life and back again?
The mechanics of message transfer - in either direction - are only half the story. If our theatre is truly to be Artaud's 'exercise of a dangerous and terrible act', if our Theatre for Development is to be a part of Joseph Beuys' dream of a social sculpture created by us all as we shape our collective future, then we need to allow the imagination to play a freer role than we have done so far. It is only the imagination that can create original strategies for change.
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