The practices we now call 'applied theatre' include a wide variety of conventions, protocols, and approaches to working with different communities through arts-based methods. Whatever their approach, they involve taking theatre out of its more traditional modes of practice to break it apart, democratize it, and make it more accessible to people who normally would not have the luxury of practising the arts. Applied theatre's values are those of social justice, and its methods are accordingly social and material—invariably collaborative, process-oriented, relational, community-engaged.
Applied theatre has multiple genealogies that have been intermixing for decades, including non-Western, emancipatory practices seeking social change, as well as the practices gathering under the term 'drama-in-education'. A touchstone in the field is Augusto Boal's influential Theatre of the Oppressed method (itself based on Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed). It was when Boal was exiled to Europe that the practice started to spread, soon after creating a worldwide sensation of theatre that gives power to its audiences (or what Boal called 'spect actors') to shape and shift the outcomes of a given performance. Important moments of dialogue and illumination could take place, Boal's method suggested, when the 'oppressed' could embody and then question the systems of oppression they live in. In the eighties in India, Sanjoy Ganguly was busy working with a group of farmers on creating theatre that addressed government corruption, patriarchy, and repression of women in Indian society. Ganguly created Jana Sanskriti, a travelling theatre troupe whose mandate was to live and work alongside other farmers and villagers where their performances take place. In the sixties, practitioners like Ross Kidd, David Kerr, and Michael Etherton were working with not-for-profit organizations in Africa to create outreach initiatives with local communities using theatre for development. The evolution of this practice saw work that eventually recognized that communities best enjoy and benefit from a process when they actively engage in creating it. For example, in his work in southeast Asia, Michael Etherton used a 'rights-based' approach for communities to access and take over the theatre for development experience, creating a process of 'self-development' (Etherton and Munier). In drama-in-education, a number of key British educators, such as Dorothy Heathcote, Gavin Bolton, Cecily O'Neill, and others, were imagining new ways drama could be taught in the classroom and, in turn, how drama-in-education could create a space for important and sometimes-difficult conversations relating to children and youtḥ Drama-in-education remains a sister practice of applied theatre and has had some influence on the methodologies practised now by a number of applied theatre practitioners.
So, when did the practice of applied theatre begin to take shape in Canada, and where did practitioners first see traces of its formation? What prompted this work to arrive here, and who was responsible? In conversations with Juliana Saxton, one of the contributors to this issue, we learned that Dorothy Heathcote's methods were taught at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Education in the sixties and early seventies. In the seventies, Barbara MacIntyre was teaching some of these drama-in-education methods (at the time termed 'creative dramatics') at the Theatre Department at the University of Victoria. Another contributor to this issue, Lina de Guevara, recalls taking a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop with Augusto Boal in the eighties on Manitoulin Island in Ontario; she recalls the studio space was fairly full and included educators, directors, and performers with a variety of backgrounds in theatre arts. What we do know is that the practice has now evolved and spread in Canada, where it has cemented its identity at different university programs and has become part of the mandate and approach to creating outreach for different theatre companies and not-for-profit organizations.
In putting together this issue we asked ourselves, "Why should our readers care to have a closer look at these practices in Canada now? What is different about our times now that might prompt us to have this examination of a practice that has existed in this country for almost fifty years?" Well...