Friday, 20 March 2009

Theatre for A Change

Our developing partnership with Theatre for A Change is a very important part of our portfolio. Here is the article I've submitted for Drama St.Mary's brochure on this work.

In April 2008 Mark Griffin and Matthew Hahn spent two weeks in Malawi as guests of Theatre for a Change, a company specialising in the interactive forum theatre techniques pioneered by Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal.

The work of Tfac in Malawi uses this methodology to exploring strategies to enable individuals to assert their gender and sexual rights. The lecturers visit was a prelude to future exchanges of good practice between Tfac trainees and Drama St.Mary’s students interested in Theatre and Development work. The first cohort of our students will travel to Malawi and join Tfac in January 2011. These are some of the notes Mark made during the visit.

Each day, with the company, begins early with a six o’clock breakfast meeting of the core team, who over coffee and cereal discuss the needs for the day. It helps that all of them are focused on a common goal, namely HIV/AIDS prevention in a country where 14% of the population carry the virus.
Patrick, Tfac’s director, heads for the offices in the British Council Building, whilst Sam and Eric, the two senior facilitators head off to meet the twenty trainees, as they do three times a week.

‘Circle! Circle!’ cries Sam
‘Circle!’ respond the trainees coming together.

‘Gender! Gender!’ calls Eric and the circle checks itself to ensure the circle is balanced.

The training session is a mixture of skills development, reflection and evaluative feedback. Brainstorming is a common tool, as is improvisation and discussion. All are expected and encouraged to participate and a focus ball is smoothly passed around the space with participants taking turns to speak or suggest ideas for furthering the work. Each of the day’s activities, including planning the schedule, is facilitated by a different student. The process is everything and everybody trusts it.

Large sections of the work are videoed and reviewed with the trainees focusing on their use of voice, body and space as well as helping to indicate areas for development and improvement. It’s a rigorous and rewarding approach.

On Monday’s and Thursdays the twenty trainees travel into the schools and communities of Lilongwe to disseminate their work to their own focus group of twenty. In this way 400 people a week are already participating and later this month the trainees will take up placements in the nine teacher training colleges across the length of Malawi to deliver this methodology to all prospective Primary school teachers in the country.

We travel with trainees Ruth and Rashid who have been developing a theatre group with twenty sex workers from Kwale. At our first meeting the focus is on gathering testimony, with the workers using storytelling, short dramatisations and song to collect ideas for a short play. The work has a composite feel but each decision taken in creating the play is agreed on for its authenticity. The session ends with a joyful dance and the handing out of bags of rice donated by Feed the Children. Once this is done Grace, the leader reminds her fellow actors of the need for them to stay healthy and strong so that they can continue their important work.

Three days later we return to see the dress rehearsal of the play that the women have prepared. We crowd into a tiny sun baked yard to see how the story has developed. The rehearsal has caused a huge stir in the community and its standing room only as neighbours, friends and children crowd in to see what’s going on.

Afterwards Grace shows us around the group’s communal garden where sweet garlic, onions and tomatoes are growing. For the women this is a move towards self-sufficiency and an essential contribution to ensuring they remain nutritionally secure and it would not have happened had not the group come together through the drama workshops. Improvements imagined through a rehearsal are being act on by the women as they look to improve their quality of life. It’s inspiring and powerful work.

For more information on the the partnership between Theatre for a Change and Drama St.Mary’s please contact Matthew on:

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