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Elasticity, community & hope: understandings from participatory theatre performance Smith, Anne Louise

Abstract

This performative inquiry begins with a research project I conducted in the summer of 2004, a six week “participatory theatre laboratory’ with eight undergraduate students in the Theatre Program of the Department of Theatre, Film & Creative Writing, at the University of British Columbia. Integral to the laboratory were six participatory theatre performances with day camps in the Greater Vancouver area. Seven youth leader participants from three of these performances and two student actors were interviewed six to eight weeks later to discover what they remembered of their experience with ParticipAction Theatre. Their responses cover a wide range of interests, focusing predominantly on the value of involvement. My conceptual explorations encompass the late twentieth century movement towards audience involvement in theatre performance, theatre for education and social change, performance studies, and the relation of the artist, as mystic, to the community. Community is a contested term: I borrow from the Amerindian1 understanding of community to ground my own interpretation. I perform this inquiry as an ongoing journey of discovery, using stories from the Tricksters’ Theatre tours, my initial work in participatory performance, to propel the journey between stopping places of reflection. Elasticity, community, and hope, are three concepts that have risen through my exploration of the experience of participatory theatre. Elasticity bespeaks the dynamic of inter-relationships between people when they perform together. I identify what participants have reported as a ‘feeling of community’ when performing together to be an “excess” of performance” (Kershaw, 1 999, p. 64). This dissertation explores how participatory theatre performance can generate these “excesses” and theorizes an elastic connection between performing together and feeling a sense of community. The value of feeling community is that it may reveal an emergent culture of hope in situations where people perform together. 1 I choose to use the designation “Amerindian” following Olive P. Dickason’s rational that it is more specific than “Native” “Indian”, or “Aboriginal” (Dickason, 2002, p. xiv-xv).

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