August 16, 2010
My good friend Dan Friedman has written a paper I highly recommend. Entitled “Theatre for Nothing,” the paper delineates how theatre is being instrumentalized, especially in relation to social change efforts. Dan urges that politically oriented theatre activists recognize the stifling effect this is having on the potential for human development inherent in performance. In a conversational style, he manages to weave together history, politics, art, philosophy and psychology to make an important statement about applied theatre and developmental theatre. Dan delivered this paper last month in Belém, Brazil at the VII World Congress of the International Drama and Education Association (IDEA), at the invitation of IDEA’s president and our friend, Dan Baron Cohen.
Here’s a few tidbits:
For some 500 years now the world has become increasingly instrumentalized, a development not so subtlety connected to the rise of capitalism, science and industry. Now not only is science expected to lead to useful technology but a wider and wider range of human activities, in order to be socially supported and funded, must prove themselves to be useful, that is, to be a means toward a concrete end. Over the last few decades this instrumentalism has gained considerable foothold in the theatre, particularly educational, community-based and youth theatre work. This tendency has had a number of names over the years. At this point, the most commonly accepted label is “Applied Theatre.”
In our quest for usefulness, the search for meaning is being neglected. If we lose that quest, we lose the heart and soul of humanism, the progressive, developmental historical tendency to move the world somewhere else.
The creative tension between what is and what is becoming propels us into development individually and as a community and as a species. While cause and effect, tool for result, instrumentalism has worked well in the study of the natural world, that is, for science and technology, its imposition on theatre (and other forms of social creativity) threatens to seriously under cut the power of theatre.
Human development doesn’t proceed according to the rules of Western logic—or any static set of rules, be they generated by science, psychology, religion or political ideology. That is precisely why theatre is so fertile an activity for social development. Theatre is where we are allowed to do the un-doable, to be who we are not, to transgress and transform with others through play.
The complete Theatre for Nothing can be read here. Dan Friedman is artistiic director of the Castillo Theatre, Youth Onstage! and Becoming Producers, all at the All Stars Project, Inc.