Theatre Action Group: raising the dust in a theatre at war

As a person who has defined his practice as ‘applied theatre’ – a theatre that applies itself to particular social issues, agencies or institutions – I am clearly using my own framework as a primary source from which to reflect on TAG’s work. This article uses the case study to make comments on how to place TAG’s work within wider discussions of a socially committed theatre practice whether it is categorised as applied theatre (Thompson, 2003), popular theatre (Prentki and Selman, 2002) or theatre for development (Banham, Gibbs and Osofisan, 1999, Plastow, 1998 and Salhi, 1998). The company acknowledges inspiration from traditions within Tamil performing arts (such as kuttu), the children’s theatre of Professor Shamugalingham, with the theatre of the oppressed tradition of Augusto Boal (Boal, 1979) and with the practice of educational theatre from outside Sri Lanka (such as the work of the Philippines Educational Theater Association – see Van Erven, 2000). This event has been chosen as a starting point for a discussion on a particular practice of theatre within this context, and does not mean to imply this one example is necessarily definitive. In blurring lines between the ‘as if’ of a performance and the moment of social intervention, TAG differs from other forms of social engaged theatre that are more often defined as the point of planning or rehearsing for change. Their work consists of children’s theatre performances, participatory theatre with youth, issue based theatre projects in villages, street theatre in refugee camps, text based political stage plays, theatrical processions/demonstrations and a form of trance inducing workshop (see Sithamparanathan, 2003, p44). Although I believe the company – Theatre Action Group (TAG) – present a valuable and challenging point of departure for this discussion, it must be stated that TAG is but one theatre group who have constructed a particular practice during the war period and beyond. Different groups within the Tamil and wider Sri Lankan community should not be forgotten in the creation of an over-deterministic link between one theatre practice and the particular social situation. Rather than give a single definition therefore, it is more important to accept that TAG’s work is an active part of a difficult context, revealing the specifics of theatre that engages with social issues and communities.

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