Wrapped up in the history of theatre is a long tradition of performances addressing current social and political issues. In ancient Greece the political satire of the comic poets that performed in theatres had a significant impact on public opinion in Athenian Democracy. Theatre offers a powerful means of communicating social and political messages to a wider audience and strategies such as flash mobs and guerrilla theatre as performance activism add voice to many political and protest movements.
Other forms of theatre, such as Forum Theatre, involve the audience in an active role, creating a form of theatrical democracy to which everyone contributes. In this way audiences are encouraged to not only imagine change, but to actually practice that change and thereby become empowered to generate social action.
With the four questions in mind, browse the following short films and articles and consider how you would respond to those questions in the context of theatre:
Can theatre actually change anything? Tom Bowtell
With accusations of irrelevance constantly being hurled its way, and with the digital media providing humans with an ever-expanding array of ways to express themselves, Tom Bowtell explores theatre’s ability to effect change in people and the world.
Changing the Game in Musical Theatre – Joe Deer
Musicals like HAMILTON signal a change in the Musical Theatre as an art form – but, also reflect profound changes in society. Musical Theatre expert, Joe Deer, discusses what makes something a game changer in the world’s most popular theatre form and why it matters to the rest of us.
The life changing power of live theatre – Andrew Russell
For thousands of years, live theatre has captivated the human mind. In this talk, Producing Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Intiman Theatre, Andrew Russell shows why we respond so strongly to the stage and why recognizing its superpower is more important now than ever. With a focus on directing stage productions celebrating outsiders and those on the fringe, he conceived and directed Stu for Silverton, a new musical about America’s first transgender mayor.
Ajoka – A story of Activism and Theatre
Founded by actress Madeeha Gauhar and writer Shahid Nadeem, Ajoka has been part of the struggle for a secular, democratic, humane and egalitarian Pakistan for the last 25 years. Today Ajoka is an internationally respected name in the world of theatre and is one of Pakistan leading cultural and literary institutions. This article links to a video that tells its story.
Breaking the fourth wall: theatre as human rights activism
Using theatre to raise awareness on rights issues not only educates the audience, but also creates empathy and connection. This article explores how live theatrical performances offer a form of audience engagement that human rights organizations may find more meaningful than the circulation of films or literature.
Protest Performance – Theatre and Activism – Lyn Gardner
In this article Lyn Gardner discusses the power of slow arts activism as an understated, embedded and ground-up participatory arts activity. In Forum Theatre, she observes, the audience becomes active in finding alternative responses to the scenarios in which the characters find themselves: empowered to help change the story in a form of cultural democracy.
Actors on Activism – Jonathan Mandell
This article shares four video clips from the 2017 BroadwayCon panel entitled Actors and Activism, featuring four different Broadway actors – Celia Keenan-Bolger, along with Hamilton’s Okieriete Onaodowan, Shuffle Along’s Amber Iman, In Transit’s Margo Seiberg – and director Tina Landau.
Trans Women Take on Theatre: Acting as Activism
This article and its embedded video tell the story of the 2016 cast of Teesri Dhun, or Third Tune, travelling to Islamabad to privately perform for the US Embassy, but co-director Iram Sana had no intention of leaving the city without a public showing…