Theatre as a Medium of Change: Tools for Self-Discovery, Community, and Expression
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In this paper I will explore the way theatre can be used as a tool for self-discovery and expression for children and adolescents. First, I will define theatre for the purposes of this paper. For the specific type of theatre that I having been employing in the workshop at Bendle and will be discussing in this paper, I define theatre as the communal interpretation of experience through deliberate, playful enactment. This definition has five important parts. First, theatre is communal. A communal experience involves sharing, give and take, and group understanding or belief. This rich, interactive experience will take place throughout the preparation process and hopefully also with the audience during the performance. Second, theatre is about experience. The people creating it must be relate to the theatre piece either through direct experience or knowledge of experience. Even if the theatre piece is about aliens, (which is not in our human experience) the aliens are the interpretation or metaphor, but the meaning of the piece must be based in a true, human experience. Third, theatre must be an interpretation. Theatre is not the actual experience, but the way a group of people understands and communicates that experience. Theatre does not only portray the experience, but also comments on it or interprets it. Fourth, theatre is a deliberate enactment. Accidental happenings in life are not, for this purpose, theatre. The people creating theatre must intend to and be aware that they are making theatre and, in doing so, communicating something. Fifth, theatre is a playful enactment. This communication must be done in joy and celebration. It can explore frightening or painful issues, but the enactment itself is an act of joy, fun, and sharing. In this paper, I will refer to "a theatre group." This is a group that follows my above definition and has a leader. Anyone can be part of a theatre group: old or young, experienced or amateur, intellectually advanced or with a learning disability, physically fit or handicapped, "normal" or not. There are many examples of this type of theatre including Augusto Baal's "poetics of the oppressed," Scrap Mettle/SOUL's community work in Chicago, and Branislav Tomich's workshops with mentally handicapped people and children in correctional facilities. As long as they are human they have experiences, are able to interpret them with others, and can communicate this through enactment. In this paper I will be focussing specifically on children and adolescents and their experiences in theatre groups. Through a discussion of my research, my experience at Bendle Middle School, and my own ideas, I will explore the way theatre can be used to learn about one's self and express and communicate that understanding.