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.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

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.


  1. HI Aurora,
    My name is karla and I'm from Peru.
    I've found your blog very interesting. Thank you so much for this information. I have studied theatre at the university and I want to do a Master but I'm not sure about the difference between Applied Theatre and Drama therapy.
    Can you help me with that?

    Thank you.


  2. Hi Karla,
    Applied Theatre is an umbrella term that incorporates drama therapy. Applied theatre also refers to theatre in education, forum theatre, theatre for development and playback theatre, amoung other forms. Applied theatre has come from theatrical traditions where-as drama therapy comes from traditions of psychotherapy. In australia, applied theatre is ordinarily refered to as 'community arts'.
    If you are interested in drama therapy you must see the work of David read Johnson - he's astounding! Very brave and brilliant.WOW.
    And in applied theatree i love the work of Augusto Boal - do you know him?
    Wat sort of theatre are you interested in?
    Thanks for writing to me Karla - good luck with your Masters!

    1. Hello Aurora! My name is Patrizia and I am from Italy. I am trying to understand the difference between drama therapy and psychodrama if there are any. And above all, may I utilize one of the two even if I am not a psychologist? I am a Gestalt Counsellor and an actress, but here in Italy law it is not clear, and i try to understand how is in the rest of the world...I hope you can help me... thank you very much!
      Patrizia from Genoa, Italy

  3. Hi Aurora!
    Thanks four your help.
    I'm interested in applying drama for social purposes, I mean I want to work with communities and gropus of people interested in improve the environment they are living.
    I know some of the work of Boal. I really like it.
    Do you Know about any university where I can apply for a master in Australia or anywhere else?

    Thanks again!!


  4. I have just attended a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa at the University of Witswatersrand and they have a really fab program on applied theatre but i think it's mostly for African nationals who get schoalrships. So worth going to their Drama for Life conference tho! (check it on facebook too).
    In Australia Griffith Uni publish a journal 'The Applied Theatre Researcher' that looks at theatrical alternatives to conflict. So yeh, I'd recommend checking them out. My uni does not specialise in applied theatre - I'm the only one really doing it! (1 more phd student soon to start). But we have a great women's studies and drama faculties. That's Flinders Uni, South Australia.
    Check out Griffith Uni - I think they're in NSW - well worth keepiung in touch with them regardless of it you go there to study
    that's the journal.
    Keep in touch! I'd love to hear how you go on your journey

  5. that was me, not anonymous! this dam wordpress....from Aurora

  6. Hi. I was checking out the site (Might be a bit late in responding to the earlier posts). The Applied Theatre department of Griffith Uni is in Brisbane, Queensland.

  7. Thanks anonymous! Yes, Griffith Uni is in sunny Queensland