- Border Crossings—a Transatlantic Project in Community-based Theatre: Performing the Bus Stop Journals
This article is based on a collaborative project in theatre for development (TFD), or community-based theatre, which was conducted by four faculty members of the theatre departments of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) and the University of Zimbabwe. The project, which was titled “Border Crossings: A Transatlantic Project in Theatre for Development,” was funded through a joint Fulbright Alumni Initiatives Awards (AIA) grant.
Principally, this article argues that although historically community theatre has always targeted economically disadvantaged rural and urban communities, the Border Crossings project deliberately shifts its focus from the rural and urban poor to the urban middle classes. The project is an effort to explore the power of drama and theatre to provide cultural space for dialogue. It demonstrates that TFD need not necessarily be a theatre practice in aid of the poor and marginalized. It can also function as a medium to address issues pertaining to other social classes.
Using the experience gained from this ground-breaking transatlantic project, involving participants from both a developed and a developing country, the article explores the hitherto unexamined potentialities of TFD.
Background to the Border Crossings Project
During the autumn of 2004, Owen Seda, a former Fulbright scholar-in-residence at Cal Poly Pomona, and William Morse, a former Fulbright fellow at the University of Zimbabwe, were awarded a joint Fulbright AIA grant. In accordance with the broad aims and objectives of the AIA program, which is to cultivate and expand existing links between former hosting institutions, the grant was used to sponsor a transatlantic project in TFD. In the words of the Fulbright foreign scholarship board:
The objective of the AIA program is to help translate the individual Fulbright experience into long-term institutional impact. . . . The program provides small institutional grants to Fulbright alumni to develop innovative projects that will foster institutionally supported linkages and sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships between the Fulbright’s scholars’ home and host institutions.
It was with this background that participants in Border Crossings designed a TFD project in the urban areas of Harare, Zimbabwe and Pomona. This was to be a community-specific project focusing on mutual attitudes of the peoples of the United States and Zimbabwe. The two theatre departments of Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Zimbabwe already offered courses in community theatre and the uses of theatre. Border Crossings was therefore conceived and designed as a project of mutual collaboration under the aegis of the AIA grant. [End Page 183]
The project had the following principal objectives:
• To implement a process of international academic and cultural cooperation through a joint project in TFD.
• To widen the scope of community-based theatre at Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Zimbabwe through collaborative research involving faculty, students, and members of the target communities as active participants.
• To raise the profile of TFD by targeting middle-class communities in Harare and Pomona.
Theatre for Development and Community-based Theatre: A Conceptual History
The terms theatre for development and community-based theatre (or simply community theatre) are often used interchangeably. In North America, the preferred term is community theatre, while in most of Africa and the developing world, it is referred to as theatre for development. Whatever its appellation, it is defined as “a theatrical style which stresses participation, dialogue, and critical consciousness. The practitioners of this theatre are committed to social transformation through cultural action using theatre” (Hagher 103). Similarly, Abah defines it as “the practice by which theatre is put at the service of the disadvantaged rural and urban poor for the purposes of discussing and working out strategies for dealing with their socioeconomic conditions” (“Participatory Theatre” 17). From Hagher’s definition, it can be said that TFD makes an effort to speak to people in their own language and idiom, and deals with issues of direct relevance to their lives.
As a worldwide phenomenon, TFD appears to have descended from the ground-breaking experiments during the 1970s by two Brazilians: Augusto Boal, a theatre director, and Paulo Freire, an adult educator. Boal’s dramaturgy was itself inspired by the...