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Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance

For a Special Issue on

Critical Historiographies of Applied Theatre in Africa: A South-South Discourse

Abstract deadline
01 November 2023

Manuscript deadline
30 September 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Dr Nkululeko Sibanda, University of Pretoria, School of the Arts: Drama
[email protected]

Prof Marié-Heleen Coetzee, University of Pretoria, School of the Arts: Drama
[email protected]

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Critical Historiographies of Applied Theatre in Africa: A South-South Discourse

This themed issue of RiDE invites contributions from practitioners, practitioner-scholars, scholars, and researchers of applied drama and theatre, participatory performance, and process-based work to reflect upon the practice, development, trajectories, opportunities, and teaching challenges within Africa, at a local, national, and transnational level. Since the 1970s, varied modes of applied theatre have developed and mutated into various typologies and practices within and in Africa (Balme & Hakib 2023:1). Consequently, over the years, there have been contestations over what applied drama/theatre is, where it can be used, for what purposes (Balme & Hakbib 2023, Mlama 1991; Mda 1993; Kerr 1995; Abah 1997; Dale 1999) and how it is to take shape to speak to African contexts and challenges. On one hand, within the purview of indigenous knowledge systems that underpin African performative approaches and performance, applied drama/theatre has provided a bottom-up approach which centres community experiences and responds to the primary communicative and social change needs. On the other hand, applied theatre has emerged as a practice where academics and donors from the global North ‘partner’ with communities in Africa to undertake clearly defined, developed, and goal-focused projects. Due to the dominant position of institutions from the Global North and their resident researcher-practitioners, the latter has dominated research and theorisations of applied drama/theatre, crafting a foundational canon and paradigm through which the practice, teaching, and arguments around applied theatre have been framed and presented. This themed issue invites researchers, scholar-practitioners, educators, and scholars to reflect, theorise and converse in the diverse epistemological, pedagogical, methodological, ethical, aesthetic, and technical qualities of their applied theatre work specifically located in Africa and from an experiential perspective.

Adopting a retrospective approach, this themed issue seeks to trace, track and problematise the ‘development’ (positive and/or negative) of applied drama/ theatre in Africa. It is our contention that applied theatre practice, specifically in Africa, intersects with a pluriverse of areas of concern. Key to this issue are four major concerns. First, the complex experience of being in Africa in a globalised and digital capitalist world. What are the challenges faced by practitioners in Africa who adopt radically indigenous and supposedly untheorized approaches to applied theatre practice? Second, the complex relationship between African-based communities, practitioners, and scholars with the global world. In many instances, African-based communities, scholars, and practitioners are involved in collaborative projects with fellow scholars, academics, and practitioners from the Global North from a weakened position – the ones to be ‘developed’ or the communities that ‘need intervention’. Key issues related to this complex relationship(s) is the definition of key terms that underpin collaborative projects. For instance, Kenneth Bamuturaki (2022: 540) observes that “[o]ne of the key challenges in TfD practice has always been a lack of effort and willingness to work together by both the funders and the practitioners.” Key to this observation by Bamuturaki are issues of ‘time’, ‘sustainability’, ‘power play’, and ‘prescriptive funding’, which usually navigate applied theatre projects’ focus away from the community’s needs. This issue seeks to provide space for researcher-scholars, practitioners, and practitioner-scholars to further engage this ‘politics of funding’ and provide strategies that have been implemented or can be implemented to counter these challenges.

Third, and tied to the second concern, is the publishing environment which the domineering Global North scholarship and their well-resourced supporting environments have limited spaces for dialogue, reflection, and engagement with African-based scholars from their lived and experienced perspective. As Munyaradzi Chatikobo, in his documented interview with Katherine Low, exposes, applied theatre as it is practised in Africa has been framed and presented as anchored on Western theories yet “most of the applied drama and theatre arts forms we use are rooted in African performance forms and rituals” (Chatikobo and Low 2015: 381). This issue welcomes proposals that radically locate and theorise applied Theatre practice, approaches, and processes from an African perspective. The fourth and major concern that applied theatre in Africa needs to speak to is the decolonial agenda. This necessitates a re-engagement with the challenge of exploring, understanding, and representing the problematics in the field: reflecting what we ‘know’ about applied drama/theatre and applied drama/theatre in Africa, as well as on how the Global North ‘knows’ Africa in and through applied drama/theatre praxis. Particularly, how the idea of responsibility underpins or complicates such work and related action. Central to the argument of this themed issue is captured vividly by Warren Nebe (2022: 6), who submits that;

Our ordinary, oppressive, and liberatory, divergent, and painfully traumatic histories on the continent served as our foundation for the house we were building. After all, how could we not reflect on how colonialism, be it at the hands of the French, German, Portuguese, English, or Dutch, amongst others, had shaped our countries’ histories, cultural narratives, education, and arts practice?

This themed issue, thus, invites researchers, educators, practitioners, and practitioner-scholars to critically engage with applied theatre from an African paradigm and experiential perspective. Deriving from an applied theatre perspective that it is “about the people by the people for the people” (Odhiambo 2004: 6), this issue specifically targets Africa-based practitioners, educators, and practitioner-scholars engaged in applied theatre work adopting but not limited to arts-based approaches, experimental, and multi-disciplinary practices. To this end, we invite contributions that respond to the following key questions and sub-themes:

  1. In what ways can or is applied theatre practiced in African spaces and communities?
  2. How has the practice of applied theatre evolved and continues to evolve within Africa?
  3. What strategies have been used to navigate and counter the ‘politics of funding’?
  4. How can the Northern dominance in the publishing environment be shifted to open up greater spaces for dialogue, reflection, and engagement with African-based scholars?
  5. How can the multiple underrepresented applied theatre practices on the continent be theorised using an African paradigm based on the lived experiences of African-based practitioners?
  6. What are the challenges and opportunities faced by practitioners in Africa who adopt radically indigenous and ‘untheorized’ approaches to, or shift the dominant epistemic frame of, applied drama/theatre practice?
  7. How may drama teaching and learning be defined, articulated, or argued for from an African-inspired applied theatre framework?
  8. What kind of South-South conversations can be developed around the major concerns raised by this issue?

Submission Instructions

This themed issue will feature research articles (c.6,000) and other forms of contributions such as interviews, provocations, practitioner statements, and case studies (c.1,500) as well as creative contributions, such as photo essays or online outputs (10-15 minutes). Online outputs could include recorded conversations between researchers, practitioners, and/or participants, clips of performances and/or workshops, and more. All submissions will be reviewed by the editors and two anonymous referees.

Please send 300-word proposals for contributions, plus 100-word biographies for each contributor, to Nkululeko Sibanda [[email protected]] and Marié-Heleen Coetzee [marié[email protected]].

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