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{ 65 } \ How Does the Show Go On? Theatre for Development in Post-­ election Kenya —Christopher Connelly Practitioners in the Theatre for Development movement have always faced difficult challenges. Because their performances are developed with, for, and about communities—often of poor and marginalized constituencies—civic disruptions within these communities can create extreme obstacles to performance. The violence in Kenya following the disputed presidential election of December 2007 caused mayhem in areas where a medley of ethnic groups once lived together peacefully, including in the slums of Kibera and Mathare, where more than half of Nairobi’s citizens live (more than 800,000 people live in Kibera alone). These areas have seen some of the worst violence. These areas are also where several Theatre for Development groups focus their performances. The inherent difficulties for theatre groups performing in partnerships with these kinds of communities become extreme when the communities as well as the theatre groups are composed of opposing political factions and ethnic groups. In the United States, productions may face crises, but rarely are they life-­ threatening. In an environment of political strife and violence among neighbors, how does the show go on? Theatre for Development groups such as the Peoples’ Popular Theatre in Nairobi (PPT); Shining Home for the Community (SHOFCO),aYouth forYouth Service Organization in ­ Kibera; and REPACTED’s (Rapid Effective Participatory Action in Community Theatre Education and Development) Magnet Theatre in the city of Nakuru have shown that it does. In January 2008 my six-­ year-­ old son asked me to promise him that I would not go back to Kenya until, in his words, “the war is over.” While the violence that erupted in Kenya after the disputed presidential elections is not usually { 66 } Christopher Connelly­ referred to as a war, its results were much the same. The country descended into turmoil after a deeply troubled presidential election in December. The dispute released decades of frustration about political, economic, and land issues, pitting opposition supporters against members of the president’s ethnic group and groups perceived to support the government. More than a thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were forced from their homes.Although the violence appeared to be political and not ethnic, in Kenya it is often difficult to discern a difference between these motivations. Kenya has more than forty ethnic groups. Incumbent president Kibaki is of the dominant group, the Kikuyu, whereas Odinga, his political rival, is of Luo heritage, the second-­ largest group. The disputed national election ignited widespread violence pitting the Kikuyu against others, especially the Luo. As neighbors killed neighbors, this violence at times raised the specter of the genocidal violence of Rwanda and created fears among Kenyans of a prolonged civil war. These events have deeply affected the relationships between the multiethnic communities and the Theatre for Development groups with whom they have formed partnerships, as well as the inner workings of the multiethnic theatre companies themselves. When daily life in these communities becomes marked by murder, beatings, destruction of property, and displacement, as it did after the election, maintaining a theatre program in them becomes a very dangerous endeavor. The practice of Theatre for Development generally includes approaches such as participatory theatre, popular theatre, community theatre, legislative theatre, theatre in health education, educational theatre, and entertainment. The theories of Brazilians Augusto Boal and Paolo Freire have become pervasive in academic discussions of Theater for Development. Boal, through the theatre , and Freire, through public education, emphasize empowerment through consciousness-­ raising and an awareness of self and society to lead to individual and institutional transformation. They advocate for a form of communication and education that is reflective and incites action both in acting onstage and in daily life as a fundamental principle for democratization. Although many members of community-­ based Theatre for Development groups are either unacquainted with or only slightly familiar with Boal and Freire, their work is of the kind that Boal and Freire wrote about, supported, and practiced. PPT and groups like them function at a grassroots level, focusing far less on theory and much more on practice by concerning themselves with the daily lives of the people in the communities where they perform...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9953
Print ISSN
0733-2033
Pages
pp. 65-72
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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