Participatory Theatre Gains Momentum, New Vision and Renewed Focus
Workshop Charts a Path for Strengthening Participatory Theatre as a cross-cutting Communication for Development Platform
LUSAKA, Zambia, 16 July 2015 (UNICEF) – More than 70 participants from 18 countries — across six continents — gathered here last week to share, learn, and sharpen strategies on how participatory theatre can engage communities to claim their rights and address specific development and humanitarian challenges.
The seven-day workshop closed over the weekend in a ceremony with representation from Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Tourism and Arts, Hon. Esther Banda, MP, Chairman of the National Arts Council, Mulenga Kwepepe and senior UNICEF officials. Throughout the week, workshop participants deliberated on principles and standards for raising the quality of practice. These were captured in a Lusaka Declaration outlining detailed commitments of theatre practitioners for using participatory theatre as an approach for community engagement, behaviour change and social transformation.
“Participatory Theatre can be a potent medium to address power imbalances in communities which prevent them from fulfilling their basic rights. It can be applied in conflict-affected settings to address underlying causes of tensions and build social cohesion; in post emergency situations to help reduce trauma and in development contexts to tackle harmful socio-cultural norms and practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and open defecation,” said Kerida McDonald, UNICEF’s Senior Advisor for Communications for Development at its New York City-based headquarters. “But it is important to ensure that we are not un-wittingly supporting theatre groups to practice one-way messaging in the name of ‘edu-tainment.’”
UNICEF is partnering with the Zambian-based Africa Directions, a youth theatre non-governmental organization (NGO) to lead a multi-country mapping exercise and the development of guidelines and tools to ensure that participatory theatre is used effectively to empower communities examine their realities, express their opinions and identify collective solutions to issues affecting them.
Said UNICEF Zambia Representative Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim, PhD., “In Zambia, we are supporting participatory theatre in schools and communities to address a number of issues, including school dropout and teenage pregnancy. We welcome this workshop which is focusing on defining standards of practice and addressing critical issues such as evaluation. If theatre can bring about results for children, create spaces for them to speak and be heard, and advocate for their rights and life-saving needs, then we need to find mechanisms to scale it up and make it sustainable,” said El-Bashir.
The workshop, which was held from 05-11 July, invited expert guest speakers to provide an overview of the historical and current status of participatory theatre including Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn who shared findings from his recently conducted global literature review of participatory theatre; Alessandro Conceição from Brazil’s Centre of the Theatre of the Oppressed; and Professor Dickson Mwansa Zambian Open University. Participants met in groups to consider the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats for participatory theatre and suggest recommendations for strengthening the practice.
“The workshop has provided an eye-opener for all of us. Hearing of country experiences from other African nations and across the world has broadened our awareness of a wide range of models for supporting participatory theatre: through drop-in centres, schools, youth centres, university departments and religious networks. There are also exciting innovations we are learning about such as combining participatory theatre with live TV and doing legislative theatre to influence the development of new laws and policies,” said Africa Directions Excecutive Director, Mark Chilongu.
In partnership with UNICEF Communication for Development Section at the organization’s New York headquarters, Africa Directions will be using the outputs of the workshop to develop a global guide for participatory theatre practitioners. The organization will also begin to serve as a regional centre to improve professional exchanges, networking and capacity development to strengthen the contribution of the application of theatre for development. Funding for the initiative has generously provided to UNICEF by the Government of the Netherlands as part of its global peacebuilding initiative, which in many countries UNICEF is implementing in partnership with the Search for Common Ground.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org/zambia.
Source: Kerida McDonald, UNICEF