How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Is Catharsis a lot of Crying?

I am writing about catharsis and crying so much I have to turn the radio off. You know that song 'She Cries'? (I will find the link and put it up). I am crying cos there has been a hole blast right through me with the pain of the song, the story it tells, and all the stories it doesn't tell. It's a gush that rushes through me.

Is this catharsis?

According to Aristotle, not really.
Catharsis, for him (so those who interpret his work say) is the discharge of emotions so that one may be rid of them.
Today, however, I cry out of recognition. I have no desire to rid myself of these emotions. Instead, it is an act of empathy, a desire to open to the world and let it run through my heart. It is no attempt to cleanse my heart (clean! poo-hoo!). It is a desire to let my heart see and be in the world. And some parts of the world can only be honoured through a good cry.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is Theatre for Development?

Applied theatre is used in the field of development through a group of practices often referred to as theatre for development. These performances frequently work with rural and marginalised communities employing performance, including drama, song, dance and puppetry to convey pertinent health and educational messages (Kamlongera, 2005; Prentki T. , 1998). As a tool for development work, performance may be particularly useful due to performance artists abilities to work with groups of people who are not literate, who do not share a language, or who don’t have access to other types of media. Theatre for development performances often attempt to operate in local languages, and strive for styles, techniques, plots, and characters that are culturally appropriate. This group of performances work towards delivering health and educational messages to those not reached by mainstream initiatives, while cultivating community participation and mobilisation (Chinyowa, 2008b; Kamlongera, 2005; Prentki T. , 1998). Theatre for development may offer a way of looking at how performance can work with communities to create their own approaches to transforming the script of rape.

Theatre for development in practice

Rather than being simply a method of communicating health and educational messages to communities, theatre for development aims to create a forum for people to negotiate their own change. The pedagogical theories of Paulo Friere (2002; 2006a; 2006b) offer a framework for working with communities and have been instrumental in developing concepts of theatre for development. Friere initiates a ‘bottom-up’ approach to education, in which students institute their own solutions to problems. In his most famous text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2006a), Friere separates his work from what he calls the ‘banking’ method of education. The banking method refers to the assumption that students are an empty vessel and the teacher’s ‘task is to ‘fill’ the students’ with knowledge (Friere, 2006a, p. 71). The student is filled up like a bank, a receptacle to be sustained by the teacher. The teacher tells, while the student listens, records, remembers. Knowledge can be possessed or lacking, with the teacher acting as regulator, or depositor of essential information. Meanings are delivered as if they are absolute and unchanging: ‘The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 71). According to Friere, this banking method reflects an oppressive society which clearly delineates ignorance from knowledge, and denies any attempt to transform existing power structures. Knowledge is given value according to who holds it, so that wisdom held by students is not as valuable as that held by teachers. It is the ‘teacher [who] chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 73).

Paolo Freire and freedom through education

This banking method of education annuls possibilities for transformation and creativity. It is the same framework that delivers communities ‘’folk’ songs, dances, poems and stories that have already been planned for them’ (Chinyowa, 2008a, p. 18). It presumes that ‘the individual is a spectator, not re-creator’ of the world (Friere, 2006a, p. 75). Instead of simply delivering knowledge, Friere suggests education as the posing of problems, a dialogue between equals in which all are responsible for intellectual and personal growth. Friere’s philosophy engages learners in dialogue that invites them to be become ‘co-investigators’ in building awareness (Friere, 2006a, p. 106). Learning expands into a process of conscientizacao, or a developing of awareness and taking action against of one’s oppressions (Friere, 2006a). In the spirit of Friere’s theories, when considering theatre for development Kennedy Chinyowa (2001; 2007; 2008a; 2008b) writes that the process assumes ‘people are capable of transforming themselves if they are afforded the space to participate in their own development’ (Chinyowa, 2008a, p. 5). Theatre for development is influenced by a Frierean framework and aims to become ‘the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it’ (Friere, 2006a, p. 79). Performance is participatory, awakening people from a passive state of acceptance, into a critical consideration of their realities.

Despite the impact of Friere’s participatory framework upon theories and practices of theatre for development, performance processes may continue to silence women participants. While women may be visible in theatre for development shows, performance theorist Esi Dogbe (2002) argues that they do not necessarily have a voice in the process. In her analysis of theatre for development in Ghana, Dogbe writes that plays may deliver messages of women’s strength and decision-making abilities, yet these same performances do not allow women to become active decision makers in the play-making process. While Ghanaian policies on development aim for the empowerment of women, none of the projects that Dogbe studied explicitly attempted to challenge gender frameworks. Instead, performances target women ‘with messages to work harder, keep their surroundings clean, develop eco-consciousness, and discipline their sexual behaviour’ (Dogbe, 2002, p. 88). As Dogbe puts it, women are ‘simultaneously ‘vocal’ and ‘silenced’, ‘visible’ and invisible’’ in a contradictory approach to participation (Dogbe, 2002, p. 85).

While participation is a key tenant of theatre for development, without a critique of gendered practices, theatre for development cannot offer alternative ways for women to participate. Chinyowa maintains that while ‘community theatre remains in search of social change, it seems to be confronted by ambiguities in terms of the agency, power and representation of its participants’ (Chinyowa, 2008b, p. 11). According to Chinyowa, those working in the field of theatre for development, who are often outsiders to the communities with which they work, can fail to fully observe and understand the cultural norms of target communities. He examines how notions of participation involve more than simply performing plays in local languages, and post-performance discussions (Chinyowa, 2008a). Both Dogbe and Chinyowa warn of the potential of shaping theatre for development projects to suit stakeholder needs, rather than taking into account the specificities of each community. If performance is to prevent the script of rape then it must take as a starting point communities’ own attitudes and configurations of gender and relationships, inviting participants to consider and critique the social implications of these.

Intro to Applied Theatre

Applied theatre is an umbrella term for a group of performance practices in which artists work with individuals and communities to foster social change. The term ‘applied theatre’ may be used to refer to community theatre, political theatre, youth theatre, theatre in prisons, theatre in conflict resolution, playback theatre, psychodrama, dramatherapy, theatre in education, and theatre for development (Prentki, 2009). The term ‘applied’ in applied theatre points to two predominant functions of theatre. Theatre may be ‘applied’ to a community for self-development and exploration, or ‘applied’ to an issue that is addressed through theatre (Ackroyd, 2007). This notion of ‘theatre’ is not a distinct form of art that is understood in the same way in every community and context (Ackroyd, 2007; Prentki, 2009); in fact, applied theatre may deliberately contest and purposefully transgress theatrical traditions (Jackson A. , 2009). Both these notions ‘applied’ and ‘theatre’ therefore point to performances with a similar purpose but different theoretical frameworks and approaches.

Applied theatre from the Centre of Applied Theatre Research

In writing about contemporary discourse on applied theatre, Judith Ackroyd (2000; 2007) however, wonders if ‘the term is actually worth having’ (Ackroyd, 2007, p. 7). While she had previously embraced this term (Ackroyd, 2000), Ackroyd more recently argues that the discourse on applied theatre has created a hierarchy of performance approaches (Ackroyd, 2007). Ackroyd maintains that applied theatre must not be considered as an ideology or a method. Instead, as a range of separate and overlapping art forms that seek social transformation, these performances must continually reflect upon their purpose and engagement (Ackroyd, 2000). My interest lies in the potential of each form to work with communities to reconfigure gender and negotiate ethical relationships. Like Ackroyd, I am not merely interested in the efficacy of applied theatre performances in reaching their purported goals (Ackroyd, 2007); I am also interested in examining and critiquing these goals, asking if they have the potential to transform the script of rape.

Effect or Affect?
Applied Theatre has traditionally focused on social efficacy over aesthetic experience (Prentki T. , 1998; Thompson, 2009). Discourse on applied theatre promotes performances as working towards positive social change and personal growth; performances aim to assist people reflect upon and change their lives, to work through trauma, engage in learning, and depict ‘something of the truth of the lives of those involved’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 116). Performance theorist and director of DramaAidE (Drama Aids Education), Lyn Dalrymple tells that in the context of South Africa, the impact of applied theatre is primarily seen in terms of ‘the effect an activity or experience has had on its target audience’ (Dalrymple, 2006, p. 202; italics in original). In working on applied theatre projects that attempt to prevent the rise of HIV infections through raising awareness of the issue, Dalrymple cites the difficulty of evaluating the goals of applied theatre, and of attributing these changes to the project itself (Dalrymple, 2006). It may however be problematic to simply see applied theatre performances in terms of their social impact; evaluation is notoriously imprecise, and this perspective homogenises the types of performances that are endorsed (Ackroyd, 2000).

What about the affect of applied theatre?

James Thompson in Applied Theatre and the End of Effect (2009) argues for a methodological shift that considers the affect, rather than the effect of performance. Performance may be educational and informational, or offer ways for communities to differently negotiate their social realties. However, according to Thompson, these are not the primary attributes of performance, and he quotes Claire Colebrook who argues ‘what makes it art is not content but its affect’ (Colebrook in Thompson, 2009). This viewpoint acknowledges that performance is not merely a bundle of meanings, but a force which generates individual impressions and creative force. In suggesting a move away from a focus on efficacy, Thompson is not proposing that applied theatre become politically insignificant. Instead, he claims that ‘the aesthetic intensity is in itself the propellant of political action’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 128). In Thompson’s opinion, critique of applied theatre must move to acknowledging how aesthetic experiences of performance invite intellectual engagement (Thompson, 2009, p. 130).

Richard Schechner's Efficacy-Entertainment Braid
While Brecht and Schechner make clear distinctions between entertainment and efficacy (Schechner, 1988), Thompson does not write these functions as dichotomous, but argues instead for a discourse that acknowledges their continual interweaving. Schechner arranges entertainment and efficacy into a braid, and outlines how historically, performance has oscillated between these two extremities (Schechner, 1988). Schechner writes that at ‘any historical moment there is movement from one pole to the other as the efficacy-entertainment braid tightens and loosens’ (Schechner, 1988, p. 136). Yet for Thompson the concept of affect ‘tries to turn a braid into a mesh of felt responses’ that disrupts the opposition between efficacy and entertainment (Thompson, 2009, p. 130). Performance is promoted as having sensory, experiential, and expansive affects that promote engagement. Thompson argues that applied theatre performances must be appraised for both sensation and meaning, so ‘the joy – the buzz of the participatory arts is inseparable from the total impact of the event’ (Thompson, 2009, p. 131). In my analysis of performance as a way to prevent rape I wish to explore how the experience of performance itself may be transformative, rather than investigating transformation as some future social change.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Performance as a Ritual

In order to look for potentials for performance to prevent rape, I examine 2 broad types of theatre - the first is applied theatre, or what is sometimes called community theatre.

Applied theatre understands that performance functions in several different ways; performance may act as a mimesis of life, as a platform for catharsis, and as social ritual. Looking to performance as ritual could offer possibilities for transformation of the rape script, as rituals are commonly used by communities as ‘both indicators and vehicles of transition from one sociocultural state and status to another’ (Turner, 1979, p. 466). Rituals are used by social groups as a process of shared meaning-making and identity formation, with individuals creating, expressing, and changing themselves in conjunction with their society. During rituals there is a period perhaps potent for transformation, this is the liminal period. The liminal period is discussed by anthropologist Victor Turner as a reflexive period in which the initiate is between realities. Initiates are not who they were, but not yet who they are going to be. The liminal period is ‘betwixt and between’ social realities, on the threshold, neither here nor there (Turner V. , 1987). Sitting between times and spaces liminal phases are apart from daily duties, disconnected from everyday social masks. Liminality can include the inversion, subversion and contradiction of daily roles, with this playful performance of alternative realities a way to examine and critique both one’s own social role and the positions of others. The liminal is ‘a time of enchantment when anything might, even should, happen’ (Turner V. , 1979, p. 465).

The Show Junkie by At The Foot of The Mountain
Performances may be ideally placed to become liminal experiences, as they sit apart from daily realities, yet can continue to reflect back upon life. As Turner points out, performance can act as shared reflexivity, in which groups examine themselves. Participants in theatre are set apart from their everyday roles, ‘full of experiment and play’, with the freedom to create new ways of being (Turner, 1979, p. 466). ‘At The Foot of The Mountain’, a feminist experimental troupe established in Minneapolis in 1974, drew upon ritualistic practices, embodying shared processes of transformation (Greeley, 2005). Their piece Junkie! incorporated aspects of the liminal, becoming a space between realities that invited actors and spectators to reflect on current difficulties, and embrace new ways of being. As an attempt at group transformation, Martha Boesing, co-founder of the ‘At The Foot of The Mountain’ says Junkie! was ‘a spontaneous and immediate communal renewal, [and] the first step to spiritual surrender and recovery’ (Greeley, 2005, p. 55). At the conclusion of the play spectators were invited to share their own personal stories of addiction, loss, and recovery. Confines of everyday societal roles were forgotten, as participants came together to traverse shared journeys of recovery. Roles that usually distinguish and define people were overthrown, and stories that are usually private and painful formed the basis for united growth. Connectivity, reflection and expansion were foregrounded, using performance as a ritualistic practice for transformation.

These performative processes enabled an interconnection between actors and spectators, and between performance and life (Greeley, 2005; Rothenburg, 1988). They emphasised shared experience and togetherness, replicating the equality of neophytes undergoing a ritual (Turner V. , 1979). Rather than reflecting one, unified voice, ‘At the Foot of the Mountain’ sought to provoke a diversity of opinions, journeys, and emotions. Rather than driven by scripts written by a sole playwright who sits outside the action, performances instead emerged through group-devised improvisations in response to stimulus, and audience interaction (Greeley, 2005; Rothenburg, 1988). However, this drive for a participatory and equitable form of shared transformation has been criticised as coercive, and of stressing unanimity above diversity by feminist performance theorists Sue-Ellen Case and Jill Dolan. On remarking upon The Story of a Mother II, a performance about motherhood played by ‘At the Foot of the Mountain’ at the Women and Theatre Program in Chicago in 2001, Case said mothers were over-generalised and idealised, assumed to be positive and nurturing figures. According to Case, the performance universalised notions of motherhood, neglecting diverse experiences of individuals. Both Case and Dolan felt the shared ritual of ‘going into the mother’s body’ at the finale of the show was coercive, not allowing for multiplicity or complexity (Greeley, 2005, p. 59). In looking to performance as transformative Case and Dolan point to the coercive potentials of ritual. While ritual may be a process for initiates to shift from one social role to another, these roles can be predetermined through the ritual structure itself, rather than created by participants. Ritual then may not be a successful framework to use if looking to performance as a way of transforming the rape script. Rather than as a tool for social change, ritual can serve to simply reinforce traditional social scripts.

Yoruba Women dancing

The work of anthropologist Mary Thompson Drewal (1988; 1991; 1992), however, suggests that rituals are not necessarily about stabilising the social order, but can be a continuous process of expressing and negotiating change. Thompson Drewal observes rituals of the Yoruba African tribe; these are characterised by play and improvisation, allowing participants a degree of autonomy, and the potential to change the rituals themselves (Thompson Drewal, 1992). According to Thompson Drewal, rituals are not simply a ‘relic from the past’ replicating traditional social norms, but ‘dialogic in form, always a process of competition, negotiation, and argumentation, never simply a matter of repeating correctly’ (Thompson Drewal, 1988, p. 25). Thompson Drewal calls into question Turner’s claim that rituals both rely upon and create a stable social order (Turner, 1974; Thompson Drewal M. , 1988; 1991). Yoruba village elders contend that as society changes, rituals must also change in order to retain their relevance. Like explicit body performances, Yoruba rituals do not strive to duplicate rituals previously performed, but to re-present them in ways that allow for a critical distance. This critical distance is a revising rather than a repetition of what has been. It is a way of ‘altering the way the past is read, thereby redefining one's relation to it’ (Thompson Drewal M. , 1991, p. 43). The rituals of the Yoruba point to ways that approaches of explicit body performance may contribute to methods of applied theatre. While applied theatre looks to ritual as a lens through which to view performance, ritual structure can enforce, rather than critique traditional social scripts. Yoruba rituals, however, apply approaches akin to explicit body performance and employ ritual not to maintain, but to negotiate social norms. Instead of using ritual as a coercive attempt to align participants with existing social roles, in order to work towards transformation, ritual processes must invite individuals to reconsider and revise existing social scripts.