Cultural and Creative Arts

drama and the development of rural communities


It was Hannah Arendt in her celebrated article, Power and the Space of Appearance, who opined that we are human beings only when we begin to appear for one another, otherwise we are merely humans. A community that has nothing that connects members together is not a community but a jungle habited by humans and not human beings. Therefore, the term community goes beyond a mere geographical location or setting where members live together. A community should have three basic elements. The first element is the practice of recognizing common interest and problems and talking, acting/working together for democratic decision making or problem solving. The second element is locality or territory that can be seen as where people have something in common and this shared element also connects the locality with the surrounding areas. The third element is the local society including the interconnecting association and networks. The collective value of all social networks and species  and the inclinations that arise from these works to do things for each other is what Robert Putnam called ‘Social Capital’ in his article, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Theatre for Development  means live performance, or theater used as a development tool—as in international development.

TfD encompasses the following in-person activities, with people before an audience:

  • a spoken-word drama or comedy
  • a music, singing and/or dance production
  • a production with movement but no sound (mime)
  • participatory or improvisational techniques using any or all of these

Theater for development can also be defined as a progression from less interactive theatre forms to a more dialogical process, where theatre is practiced with the people or by the people as a way of empowering communities, listening to their concerns, and then encouraging them to voice and solve their own problems.

For Kabaso Sydney (2013) as reflected in “Theatre for Development in Zambia” is defined as “modes of theatre whose objective is to disseminate messages, or to conscientize communities about their objective social political situation” (1993:48). And Penina Mlama, referring to the enterprise as Popular Theatre, describes its aims briefly as follows: …it aims to make the people not only aware of but also active participants in the development process by expressing their viewpoints and acting to better their conditions. Popular theatre is intended to empower the common man with a critical consciousness crucial to the struggle against the forces responsible for his poverty. (1991:67)

Theatre for Development can be a kind of participatory theatre, that encourages improvisation and audience members to take roles in the performance, or can be fully scripted and staged, with the audience observing. Many TfD productions are a mix of the two. “Theatre of the Oppressed” (TO), a technique created by Augusto Boal is a form of community-based theatre.


Since the 1970s when the concept of Theatre for Development became popular, practitioners and community development actors have used it in its conventional roles such as Awareness Creation, Social Mobilization, Out-of-classroom Education, Infotainment/Edutainment, Motivation, Educational propaganda, Problem-solving etc for Community Development. As a qualitative evaluation tool, TfD is a process of collating and using qualitative information about a community development project for live performances that will help in the assessment of overall achievements. TfD as a tool is not only about live performances, but also about all the interwoven steps that lead to live performances. It treats members of the audience not as mere consumers of a finished product, but as co-facilitators of the entire learning process. Generally in TfD, members of the audience are not SPECTATORS, but SPECT-ACTORS who significantly contribute to the success of the entire process.

Between 2005 and 2006, Educare Trust, Nigeria (Youth/Community Development NGO) in collaboration with Gendev Consult, Ibadan and Family Counseling Centre, Iseyin experimented on the use of TfD as a qualitative evaluation tool of a community development project,

‘Developing A Positive Approach To Living With, Within and Without HIV/AIDS: Prevention, Management and Control. The project took place in Kajola, Iwajowa, Itesiwaju and Iseyin Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Oyo State, Nigeria. It should be noted that Educare Trust runs a Youth Centre that has TfD as an activity. This activity gave birth to Educare Trust Players (Drama) and Educare Trust Echoes (Music). Before this HIV and AIDS Intervention Project in four LGAs, Educare Trust only used TfD in its conventional roles.

The choice of Family Counseling Centre, Iseyin as one of the collaborating Community Based Organisations (CBOs) was strategic because it is located at a LGA central to other benefiting communities – Okeho (Kajola), Iwere-ile (Iwajowa), Otu (Itesiwaju) and Iseyin (Iseyin). It was Family Counseling Centre that introduced a Community Theatre Group to the project. Gendev Consult was selected because of its track records in gender-related projects. It was responsible for mainstreaming gender issues into the project including its evaluation mechanism.

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