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