Academic journal article Education

Enhancing Correctional Education through Community Theatre: The Benin Prison Experience

Academic journal article Education

Enhancing Correctional Education through Community Theatre: The Benin Prison Experience

Article excerpt


Popular Theatre has become a strong socio-cultural and political instrument, which we cannot afford to ignore in our quest to enhance prison education. This position is confirmed by other scholars who have used it in various prisons. Gatti (1990) in France and Peedu (1993) in Sweden. In Sweden, the Gotlands Theatre gives inmates a chance to vent their frustrations with their life styles and to see these verbal onslaughts given a form that is accepted by prison administration as a social commentary in the form of drama. In the same vein, in Britain, the Goose Theatre involves prisoners in its productions and workshops about issues that are very relevant to their lives (United Nations and UNESCO, 1995) in order to improve on the positive effects of prison education. In deed, it has been argued that the usefulness of the prison education on post-release behaviour of ex-convicts is immense.

To achieve the goals intended in this article, an attempt has been made to situate Popular. Theatre in the prison context. Secondly, attempts will be made to examine the basic assumptions behind Popular Theatre as an educational process. Thirdly, one such attempt of Popular Theatre at the Benin Prison will be examined. Finally, suggestions will be made as to how Popular Theatre may be used to enhance adult education in Nigerian prisons.

Popular/Community Theatre

These two terms have been interchangeably used to mean one and the same thing. In deed, there are other variants of this coinage referred to as Popular Theatre. The most recent of these is Theatre for Development. This theatre form proffers an alternative aesthetic for communicating problems and doing theatre. It challenges the linear aesthetic canon of western theatre.

Community Theatre, no doubt, is a novel development in formalized theatre practice. This is because, although conventional theatre practice has been with man since he first thought of entertaining himself and his community, this alternative practice of theatre evolved in 1932 (Okhakhu, 1994). Community theatre is one of the several areas of interest within the subject area of Theatre Arts. As argued earlier, it has been given several nomenclatures by various scholars. Some imply call it Popular Theatre; others refer to it as Theatre for Development (Abah, 1992). This is obviously because of the nature of the problems it deals with and the methodology of prosecuting the problem.

In the main, Community Theatre deals with the problems of particular communities using the theatrical modes and styles of such communities in question (Lakoju; 1992,Okpanachi; 1992,Anpo; 1992). This kind of theatre, unlike the conventional type, is not script-dependent. In other words, it does not require a formal script by a playwright to give birth to the actions of the evolving drama. The actions are spontaneous and they emanate from the individual and collective aspirations and experiences of the community.

In Community Theatre, drama is used as an educational springboard, and not necessarily entertainment, through which the community is able to deal with the issues of concern to its members and associates. Necessarily then, the method and techniques include: movement and song, dance, role-play, interventions and discussions. The basic assumption in this approach to drama is that the technique of working in and out of role, the adoption of the physical, emotional and intellectual processes involve the individual far more and as a result, produce a more complete response than the traditional approaches to community mobilization and organization through symposia, lectures and discussions. Part of the assumptions is still that this kind of approach engenders group cohesion-thus helping to foster a clearer collective identity. Besides, the use of drama in the community with communal artifacts and laurels help the people to explore in action, the creative ideas about solving their problems or achieving some degree of remedy. …

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