Theatre for development

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Theatre for Development (TfD) means live performance, or theater used as a development tool—as in international development. TfD encompasses the following in-person activities, with people before an audience:

Theater for development can also be defined as a progression from less interactive theatre forms to a more dialogical process, where theatre is practiced with the people or by the people as a way of empowering communities, listening to their concerns, and then encouraging them to voice and solve their own problems.[1]

For Kabaso Sydney (2013) as reflected in "Theatre for Development in Zambia" is defined as "modes of theatre whose objective is to disseminate messages, or to conscientize communities about their objective social political situation" (1993:48). And Penina Mlama, referring to the enterprise as Popular Theatre, describes its aims briefly as follows: …it aims to make the people not only aware of but also active participants in the development process by expressing their viewpoints and acting to better their conditions. Popular theatre is intended to empower the common man with a critical consciousness crucial to the struggle against the forces responsible for his poverty. (1991:67)

Theatre for Development can be a kind of participatory theatre, that encourages improvisation and audience members to take roles in the performance, or can be fully scripted and staged, with the audience observing. Many TfD productions are a mix of the two. "Theatre of the Oppressed" (TO), a technique created by Augusto Boal is a form of community-based theatre.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and initiatives have used theatre as a development tool: for education or propaganda, as therapy, as a participatory tool, or as an exploratory tool in development. An account of an early use of TfD is the thesis Theater as a Means of Moral Education and Socialization in the Development of Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839-1845, which recounts how theater was used to promote ideological and civil development in a religious community in the US (Hurd 2004).

Participatory performances[edit]

In usual performances there are actors on stage and spectators who watch the play. With ‘usual plays’ it is meant the Eurocentric way that was long seen as the only ‘right’ way to do theatre all over the world, especially by the former European rulers of colonized countries. In e.g. African or Asian countries different forms of theatre were and still are very common in the sense of bringing information to the people in an oral way. Thus, different theatre traditions developed worldwide and re-lived in colonized countries after independence, whilst in rural areas they were even common during colonization. By now these times are over, and development communication got a very important topic, thus it seems perfect to make up still living traditions through participative theatre methods. First of all it is very important for actors and organisers of the performance or TfD-project to get to know the society and the problems people face. Therefore, the play that is going to be performed and worked with has to be developed with local people, who know cultural behaviors and social problems of the society. Moreover, it is very helpful to have local authority persons and opinion leaders in the team of a TfD-project, whom the regional society listens to and trusts. In this way it is even possible to take advantage of the knowledge that locals have about best dates for performances or even to advertise for the ongoing TfD-performance.

Forum theatre[edit]

In TfD programs the EEE BAYE performance is mostly played on a community (or gathering) place, but randomly on a stage. In forum theatre the scene acted out shows one ore even more problems the audience faces on their daily routine. Afterwards forum theatre is explained to the audience by another person of the team and the scene will be shown again. This second and even third, fourth, fifth etc. time, one person after another from the audience can stop the play wherever she or he think it’s suitable and come into the scene. Spectators become so called "spect-actors", whereas the replaced actor steps back. Through being part of the scene participating people dive into the situation performed, what makes the whole topic feel more real for the person who came in to change the situation. Thus, it is an alternative way of problem solving, where creativity is asked for and different approaches are tried. Forum theatre functions as ‘a rehearsal for reality’, like Augusto Boal used to call it. You can obtain more information on Augusto Boal and his techniques of The Theatre of the Oppressed at the Website of the Centre for Community Dialogue and Change(CCDC). This site also has links to other excellent Websites with indepth information on Theatre of the Oppressed

Non-participative 'Theatre for Development' performances[edit]

The plays are performed to build awareness about critical topics which are mostly within a political or developmental context, often using an agitprop style. Especially in oppressive regimes it is not possible to perform political plays, as they will be prohibited from the very beginning on or the revolutionists become prisoners. A lot of creativity is asked for writing and performing a politically critical play that is a very important feature of TfD methods. Besides political issues common topics are non-formal education, hygiene, disposal of sewage, environment, women's rights, child abuse, prostitution, street children, health education, HIV/AIDS, literacy etc.

Street theatre[edit]

Methods like e.g. 'invisible theatre' or 'image theatre' can be acted in the streets, seen by people passing by. 'Invisible theatre' seems like a real situation to the audience, which mainly functions as a thought-provoking impulse to the people who observe the situation. Every kind of TfD-programme trusts in the strength of the word of mouth via people who face the situation, are part of a project or watch a critical play. 'Invisible theatre' in the streets reaches people who wouldn't attend a workshop or watch a play, thus the coverage of addressed people can be even higher and social change is another step closer.


  1. ^ Kabaso, Sydney (2013). Theater for Development in Zambia. Zambia: Kabsy Digital Media. p. 20.