Power dynamics in applied theatre: interrogating the power of the university-based TfD facilitator – the UZ theatre and CARE Zimbabwe’s Zvishavane/Mberengwa NICA project and SSFP as case study

Owen Seda, Nehemiah Chivandikwa

One of the central tenets in applied theatre is the ability to confront issues of ‘power’ and ‘powerlessness’. Indeed, success or lack thereof in applied theatre projects is often adjudged against the ability or the extent to which these projects are, or have been able to ‘empower’ the ‘powerless’. In this paper we seek to examine the extent to which, in spite of the traditional tensions between ‘power’ and ‘powerlessness’, the power of the facilitator can be a positive force that ought to be celebrated and harnessed towards resisting and subverting larger forces of manipulation and power in given rural contexts, especially when the facilitator works with the ‘less privileged’. We also seek to demonstrate that even though grass-roots participants in Theatre for Development (TfD) projects may appear as passive objects of power, project participants in apparently ‘non-political’ and paternalistic projects also enjoy a complex relational subjectivity in terms of the power dynamics of applied theatre projects. The paper is inspired by the recognition that all power can be overtly or covertly resisted. Thus Foucault’s discourses on power and resistance and Scott’s theorisation of public and hidden transcripts provide the theoretical foundations to this paper. Foucault and Scott’s theorisation of power is consistent with postcolonial African views on power which conceptualise power in relational terms. Postcolonial theorists such as bell hooks, Mangeni and Mbembe all suggest that the ‘weak’ have their own forms of power which are often ignored by the powerful in their pursuit of the grand narratives of normative power relations. We draw on our personal experience as university-based facilitators in a TfD project which took place in the two rural districts of Zvishavane and Mberengwa in southern Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2004.

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