Friday, 20 April 2012

‘Theatre for Development’ Exchange Programme at St. Mary’s University College

The Applied Theatre course at St. Mary’s University College is a new programme set up to explore ways in which theatre based research and practice might actively contribute to social & political change.  Currently, we work in partnership with Theatre for a Change (TfaC) in Malawi [though this year we have decided to go to South Africa due to the political instability, see next posts].  TfaC uses innovative strategies to stimulate dialogue, interaction and behaviour change through interactive theatre.  We are currently looking for new partners to expand our work throughout southern Africa to offer a variety of experiences to the St. Mary's students as well as to provide a sustainable basis for knowledge transfer amongst the various participants. The trip to Africa is the culmination of their training in the Applied Theatre course.   The trip will introduce the students to the key challenges in using drama to support national and international development programmes.  Students will work in local communities to understand ways in which Drama techniques can be used for social & political change.  As well as exposing them to a specific cultural context in their course, they will have the chance to reflect on how their learning within a British University can be further influenced and, if necessary, challenged, by the active practice of working in Africa.As part of the exchange, students will bring a performance from the UK to their placement. This performance would provide a stimulus for further explorations and workshops shared by St Mary’s students and others in the community.  Currently, they are creating a piece of Forum Theatre on the topic of 'Gender Balance & Safer Sex' to be performed in South Africa in April 2012.  Last year, the students developed a verbatim play based on interviews with HIV positive people in London.  It was performed in Lilongwe & London in May 2011 and filmed at Nickelodeon Studios in central London in July.  Each year, the topic can change depending on the circumstances of the placement and in consultation with the community. As component parts of their Theatre for Development training, students would also research the socio-political situation in the particular country, research and pursue funding opportunities, administer fundraising events & galvanise support.    Within the exchange, the students would lead drama workshops as well as participate in workshops, exercises & performances led by the community.  The content of the workshops & performances would be decided upon within the community with the drama students bring the form & structure of Forum Theatre, but not the content.  The students’ stay would be programmed in advance with opportunities to be fully engaged & emerged within the community with visits to local schools, hospitals, community centres, etc… all with the possibility of using drama within that particular community.  The programme would also look for opportunities for young people within the community to work closely with the St. Mary’s students. Costs to the communities would be kept to a minimum as the students fundraise in London for this opportunity.  No money comes from the University to support this exchange so a budget would have to be tightly followed and would be worked out in advance.  Funding would also be pursued to support the programme within South Africa and Britain.   It is a vital part of the exchange programme that the St. Mary’s students give as much as they receive.  It needs to be more than a ‘voluntourism’ opportunity, but an opportunity to leave a sustainable legacy with other St. Mary’s students returning for future opportunities.  It would be expected that the community be involved an intrinsic part of the exchange as well.  Debate, discussion & reflection within the community are critical.For more information about the programme, please visit or

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