Joni L. Jones, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for African and African American Studies
University of Texas
It is exciting to see that playback theatre is being used in some
African locations as a way of exploring alternative solutions to
social, political and familial issues. In his recent email posting
Bayo Omolola talked of the virtues of playback theatre, but wondered
if some readers might think it inappropriate to use theatre for such
important social work. While much theatre is entertaining, the
strongest theatre is also efficacious, and many artists and scholars
have been pushing theatre toward deeper and deeper efficacious aims.
Indeed, the entertainment value of theatre can be used to reinforce
an examination of complex and controversial issues that might lead to
endless arguing if they were presented in other forms such as debates
and lectures. Brazilian theatre activist and scholar August Boal's
"Theatre of the Oppressed" is another participatory theatre form that
insists on audiences performing their own conclusions/solutions to a
variety of political issues. Ngugi wa Thiong'o has done similar work
in Kenya. So the blend of theatre and activism is not new, and has
been utilized in many regions of the world.
I applaud this work and hope that my own efforts with socially
conscious theatre in the U.S. will be informed by my ongoing
examination of playback theatre in Africa, particularly in Nigeria
where I have the greatest kinship.