- Applied Theatre: International Case Studies and Challenges for Practice
Monica Prendergast and Juliana Saxton have undertaken the formidable task of producing a relatively short introductory textbook that provides an “international overview for students and practitioners anxious to acquire a basic understanding of what is applied theatre and how it works” (v). The first challenge the authors face is to establish some limitation on [End Page 90] what will be discussed, given the wide range of activities that are often associated with applied theatre. Prendergast and Saxton recognize the difficulty of establishing a narrow definition of the term “applied theatre” and instead of choosing a single definition, propose numerous illustrative examples of situations in which theatre is presented outside of institutionalized theatre venues to audiences who have some pre-existing connection to the issues addressed. This sets up the organizational structure of the book: its two central parts, which take up 70 per cent of the book’s 216 pages, are composed largely of excerpts from previously published articles. In keeping with the work’s textbook format, the authors provide a general introduction to each form of theatre they identify, and offer suggestions for additional readings, questions for reflection and possible activities that will allow students to test their understanding of the material included in the excerpts. All of this material is framed by the authors’ own summaries of “Theories, Histories and Practices of Applied Theatre” and “Challenges for Practice,” which form Parts One and Four of the text. In these sections, the authors particularly emphasize participation, aesthetics, ethics, and assessment as four areas of reflection or “motifs” that run through the case studies; they suggest that these are “areas key to effective practice” (25). In keeping with this emphasis, the authors encourage students to keep “a self-reflective response journal as an extremely useful way to trace your journeys of discovery as you read” and to consider creating “an ‘operations manual’ by logging those techniques and strategies in applied theatre practice that you find resonate with your own interests and learning experiences” (25).
To facilitate the tasks of keeping a journal and operations manual, the authors divide the core of the book into chapters on “Theatre in Education,” “Popular Theatre,” “Theatre of the Oppressed,” “Theatre in Health Education,” “Theatre for Development,” “Prison Theatre,” “Community-based Theatre,” “Museum Theatre,” and “Reminiscence Theatre.” This method of organization helpfully provides nine different points of focus for an overview of current practices in applied theatre. With work from fourteen different countries represented mainly through articles published since 2000, this book provides a useful snapshot of the diversity in contemporary practices of applied theatre. Given this wide range of contemporary material, Prendergast and Saxton’s decision to divide these nine chapters into one section on core approaches and another section on topics or sites of applied theatre is an effective way of inviting the reader into the work.
The three chapters of Part Two, which is titled “The Landscape of Applied Theatre,” contain excerpts from ten articles and introduce the reader to what the authors identify as core ways of approaching applied theatre (“Theatre in Education,” “Popular Theatre,” and “Theatre of the Oppressed”). Each chapter starts by putting the form it discusses into its historical context. In doing this, Prendergast and Saxton are more successful in the introductions to the chapters on “Theatre in Education” and “Theatre of the Oppressed,” which are particular movements in the recent past, than they are in introducing the chapter on “Popular Theatre,” which situates the history of popular theatre firmly in a Western European tradition by tracing its traditions back to the Greeks and commedia dell’arte. This seems an odd choice, given that one of the most interesting case studies in this chapter is about a genre of comic performance popular in Bangkok clubs that the author, Mary L. Grow, describes as “deriv[ing] its inspiration from traditional and popular Thai culture” (62), a set of practices well outside the Western tradition that the authors summarize.
Part Three, “The Locations of Applied Theatre,” focuses...