Academic journal article ARIEL

Revolutionary Theatre in Postcolonial Asia and Africa: Interviews with Eugene Van Erven and Sudhanva Deshpande

Academic journal article ARIEL

Revolutionary Theatre in Postcolonial Asia and Africa: Interviews with Eugene Van Erven and Sudhanva Deshpande

Article excerpt

Abstract: Dutch theatre scholar and practitioner Eugene van Erven is the author of such titles as Radical People's Theatre (1989), Playful Revolution: Theatre and Liberation in Asia (1992), and Community Theatre Global Perspectives (2001). Van Erven is also the artistic director of the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam. Sudhanva Deshpande is a high-profile member of India's radical street theatre outfit Jana Natya Manch (People's Theatre Front). JANAM, as the outfit is popularly known, articulates the struggles of Indian people through a tradition of dissent.

The following interview with Eugene van Erven was conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on September 15, 2011.

What is your notion of revolutionary theatre?

My notion of this concept goes back [to] when I was doing research into revolutionary theatre, at least theatre that was used as an instrument to destabilize dictatorships in Asia. I think my frame of reference is all about practices in various Asian countries and to a lesser degree Latin America and Africa. I don't know if you want me to go into the details of what I think theatre can and cannot do. Do you?

Please do.

My frame of reference goes back more than twenty years ago and is largely based on my experiences as an outside observer and, to some degree, also someone on the inside--particularly in countries like the Philippines, but also places like South Korea and Indonesia where once there were staunch, severe dictatorships.

And India also?

Yes, and Pakistan and Thailand.

Do you believe in the theatre as an instrument of social revolution? If yes, what do you consider to be the strength and weaknesses of such theatre? If no, why not?

Well, that's several questions. (General laughter) To answer that question you would have to have a working definition of what you consider revolution. In my mind, revolution is a quite intense, very radical upheaval of a political status quo by all kinds of instruments including armed struggle. And my experiences of theatre are largely of a specific nature. I know I used the title "revolution" for the book I wrote about the experiences in Asia.

Yes, Playful Revolution.

Yes, that was more like a play on words. (General laughter) The artists involved in this would comprise the whole spectrum, from those who supported the armed struggle to those who are opposed to armed struggle but perhaps favour a much more evolutionary, humane approach that is quite against violence. And there are artists that had dual, above ground and underground, identities. And there was also theatre that operates within the guerilla movement for the purposes of team building and exploring issues that affected those very tight communities, which are revolutionary armed groups. I did not see so much of this and may be only caught a glimpse of it. But perhaps I'm not sure I'm addressing the question. Your question is, what are the strong points of revolutionary theatre? I think there are many different kinds of theatre that operate within what you could call a proto revolutionary context or situation. You have propaganda theatre that is largely issue-based and message-driven and on the street quite often where groups of performers try to bring across a particular anti-dictatorial message. I have also seen it used as propaganda for the government. Theatre itself is a neutral medium. It can be used for any kind of purpose. I do believe in the social transformative power of theatre. But it can be used and abused. And the power of theatre itself to explore social issues I think is enormous. That power should be used very wisely, so one should not be romantic or naive about it. It depends in whose hands you place the weapon and what they do with it.

So you definitely acknowledge the theatre as a "weapon," just like Boal' for instance?

The word "weapon" I find troubling. …

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