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The Thumping Streets: Theatre as "Edutainment"

A loud beating of the drum pierces through the loud street sounds, rising above the noise of the honking vehicles and bustling people. The passersby, some returning students, some women, stop, the vendors desert their stalls and drag their customers along to gather around a group of idiosyncratically dressed individuals who break into a rehearsed pattern of speech and actions. This sight is called ‘Street theatre’ - a form of performing art that dispositionaly favors an educational message. The story that unfolds upon the newly reclaimed street, is one aimed at highlighting social issues and advocating tolerance. From Sudan to Delhi to the Pakistani Punjab, the power of theatre in serving public literacy and resolving, both personal and public conflicts, has long been recognized.


Their ability to engage directly with the audience and relay a message through an aesthetic appeasement, allows for a larger scope of linguistics and regional inclusivity: a concept compromised within the grander state-sanctioned academic attempt at conflict resolution. DRACON (DRAma for CONflict management) is a research project that successfully pitches theatre as a supplementary to curriculum yet the implementation of this project is often limited to the self of an adolescent child. However, the theoretical scope allows for an argument that posits theatre, both adapted to the street and to the radio as agents of peace-building in active and post-conflict societies.

Participatory theatre performance in Bor in Jonglei State – South Sudan [Euractiv]

In Sudan, owing to the increasing violence and insecurity that was emerging due to the conflict between South Sudan’s government troops and forces loyal to Riek Machar, UNICEF intervened and in collaboration with street theatre groups and local radio networks began a program that involved tribal, religious and community leaders in promoting civic values and methods of peaceful conflict resolution: a project that many argue as successful.

Shilpi Marwaha, founder of Sukhmanch Theatre engages in dialogue with audience on the streets of Delhi, India [Euronews]

Street theatre has also been employed by various groups within Delhi to promote conflict resolution within the religiously volatile groups and to raise awareness regarding the systematic oppression meted out to the women. A similar thematic trope is found within Pakistani theatre groups of Punjab such as Lok Rehas. Numerous studies have been carried out observing the phenomenon of street theatre in South Asia, where the art has always had reformative roots but in the post-colonial reality has become increasingly politicized - a tool for resistance and revolution. Within active conflict zones this allows for a non-violent form of protest and allows the individuals involved and the audience an avenue of introspective engagement with dilemmas at hand.

Lok Rahs - Street Play [Zanani] [SZFS's Photography]


Theatre humanizes the ‘other’ and allows for a personalized engagement. An engagement that compels the viewer to perceive the ‘other’ as a human. Within the context of conflict, where the written, textbook academia might fail in evoking empathy, a vividly enacted reality might aid in instilling civic and human values that can lead to conflict resolution.



In this file photo, Sangat, a feminist people’s theatre and music group from Lahore, performed Chog Kusambey Di at The Second Floor on Thursday night. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS




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A very interesting read! I think that along with humanizing the 'other' as you mentioned, street theaters serve the even more basic purpose of providing a space or platform to the 'other' to express themselves--a space that is largely denied in mainstream media. Moreover, art has an inherent ability to change perceptions and tackle stereotypes, and this form of art (accessible and easily understandable for all) is an effective way to "educate" people of different ages and walks of life, which education within the classroom cannot really do. However, I do feel that in a society like Pakistan, that is prone to censorship, religious and patriotic (over)zealousness, and frequent incidents of mob lynching/harassment, street theater as edutainment may face several…

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I agree with your understanding of the educational potential that theatre holds. Your fears are of value in the context of Pakistan, and it is true that practicing this art in itself is a struggle given the lack of financial support extended to its organizers yet we have the likes of Ajoka and Lok Rehas, that have constantly fought against censorship with success so perhaps the future for this outlet is not so bleak after all.

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zenababid-23020417
zenababid-23020417
Dec 10, 2022

Civic engagement in communities that are rural and have access to minimal forms of entertainment, and the media that they have access to is mainly the television, which is heavily controlled and monitored, can be a very difficult task. The presence of the theatre groups can be a place for engagement in issues of poverty, women's rights and other social issues relevant to the community. This can also be a source of creating dialogue and unveiling narratives that are not being censored or controlled by the state.

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I appreciate that you brought up the concept of censorship. Since theatre, specifically street theatre, occurs in open, informal spaces, it is, as you mentioned, difficult to censor. Yet another aspect of this is that since theatre features a live performance, the content presented can not exactly be challenged as no official record of it exists. The costumes and make up can also afford the actors a lot of anonymity and thus allows for a safer form of resistive gathering.


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Other than Sudan and India, Afghanistan has also used street theatre. Hundreds of community members in Kandahar, including women and children, gathered in several districts of the southern province of Kandahar to watch theatrical performances organized by UNAMA’s regional office there, with the goal of helping audiences reflect on their roles and responsibilities as parents, teachers and community members in making the province a safer place.

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Thank you for sharing this. I was unaware of the art's prevalence within Afghanistan. It is interesting to come across so many examples across the globe, each adapted to its contextual reality. This only highlights the immense potential that vests within this form of artistic expression


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I'd like to add that Pakistan has a rocky history with expressive art. Both theatre and cinema have faced troubling times as a result of public censorship which was an attempt to limit the local mobilization of society by dominant religious powers. So, to add on to this post, I would like to suggest an alternative to this expression through which we have seen historical examples of differences being resolved. I am, of course, talking about sports. If you look on a smaller level, people playing cricket on the streets in Pakistan has often diluted the identities awarded by society. One galli might have workers, homeowners, students, and many more people of different socio economic backgrounds putting aside these differences…

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I agree that sports, specifically cricket in the local context, can be employed as a tool of conflict resolution however I do, respectfully, disagree with the notion of it serving as an alternative to cathartic and socially sensitive expressions of art. Theatre is many ways, as the post highlights, acts as a tool of raising awareness. Numerous plays, in rural regions, have been organized to highlight the concept of family planning and address the formal educational curriculum's deficit in addressing sex ed as a topic. Sports lack this in scope of its disposition: they operate within unique sets of rules and laws that do not allow unique expressions of protest or catharsis. The healthy rivalries are often exploited for toxic…

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