restricted access Community Theatre: Global Perspectives by Eugene van Erven (review)
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REVIEWS tors' hegemonic claim that "community-based performance aims to make democracy a reality" (9). Such a view discredits the noisy chorus of world cultures here represented and oversimplifies a complex arc of theatrical activity, ranging between celebration and social utility, that can never be contained or explained by a single political ideology. A book that covers as much ground and raises as many questions as this one does would benefit from an afterword, a summalive document that helps the reader think through the implications of so many viewpoints and think beyond recorded events to the future of what is obviously a very fertile field. Some questions arising from reflection on this book concern the need for deeper understanding of community-based work as a form of research and for ongoing evaluation of research methodologies used in the context of performance. How can we define purposes and procedures in ways that help us to distinguish clearly between well-intended (and often profitable) leaps of intuition and more finnly grounded, observable, and even measurable investigations? How can we verify claims and assumed outcomes? Words such as "empowerment " (a thematic rubric of Performing Democracy and an outcome attributed to several of its projects) are fashionable ciphers unless buttressed by constraining questions: Empowerment for whom? Through what means? By what proofofprogressive action? EUGENE VAN ERVEN. Community Theatre: Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 200I. Pp. xiii + 268. $24.95 (Pb). Reviewed by Edward Little, Concordia University Community Theatre: Global Perspectives bills itself as "the first comparative study of the work and methodological traditions which have developed in community theatres around the world" (n. pag.). The book is based on van Erven's experience working with groups in the Philippines, the Netherlands, the United States, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Australia. Framed by an introduction and a conclusion, each of the book's six chapters presents a case study of a specific company or project. The book is to be accompanied by a video documentary , and van Erven recommends that readers view the related video section before reading each case study. Though Routledge was unable to provide a copy of the video for this review, the book represents an important resource on its own. "Community theatre" (more commonly referred to as "community-based theatre" in North America) is an emerging field of study, and this book addresses the need for foundational reference works in the field. As an introductory guide documenting practices, concerns, scholarship, and resources in Reviews 477 community-based theatre, it is of value to practitioners and academics alike. Each chapter provides an extensive bibliography and statistical information, as well as Internet sites, contact information, and e·mail addresses for individ· ual practitioners and companies. Van Erven describes his subject as an "increasingly popular cultural practice that operates on the cutting edge between performing arts and sociocultural intervention" (1). Some of the key theoretical and practical concerns that the book examines include the reception of community-based work by atls communities, funding bodies, and the general public; the need for new aesthetic and evaluative criteria that acknowledge the local and sociologically engaged nature of these art practices; and ethical concerns relating to popular and participatory practices, for example, ownership and appropriation of stories , and professional/amateur interactions. Van Erven's introduction provides a concise overview of community the· atre and its tenninology. He traces the practice's immediate antecedents in "various forms of counter-cultural, radical, anti- and post-colonial, educational , and Iiberational theatres of the 1960s and 197os" and discusses the "generic connections with drama and theatre in education, radical people's theatre, theatre of liberation, theatre for development, youth theatre, reminiscence theatre, and adult and informal education" (1-2). The six case studies provide examples of hands-on techniques, administrative strategies, discussions of the advantages and liabilities of various types of community partnerships, and testimonials from participants, practitioners, and spectators, as well as frank evaluations of successes and failures. Chapter one focuses on the Philippines Educational Theatre Association's Basic Integrated Theatre Ans approach, "an educational instrument for rapidly generating quality community theatre with young people on burning issues" (6). Chapter two examines the work of Utrecht's Stut Theatre, a company...


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