Compiled by Teo Eng Hao
Drama Box is not alone in her quest for community and social engagement; many other theatre groups in Singapore and around the globe are engaging different communities in different societies with their own unique approaches. Here are three prominent examples (in alphabetical order):
The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann in New York City's Lower East Side. It is one of the oldest non-profit, self-supporting theatre companies in the United States. The company labels itself as "Cheap Art and Political Theater", advocating the "Cheap Art Philosophy" against high art, and its name "Bread and Puppet" illustrates the characteristics of the group.
A piece of bread is given to each audience member during their puppet show, as they believe that theatre is not just entertainment, but a necessity like bread, and is a form of religion. The company believes that puppet theatre is the theatre of all means, it is of action rather than dialogue; and puppets and masks should be played on the street.
Thus, many of their performances are put out on the street, involving volunteers from the community, engaging the audience on social issues concerning the local community. Since 1998, they have been presenting their Domestic Resurrection Circus, an annual two-day outdoor festival of puppet shows.
For more information on the Theater and their "Cheap Art Philosophy", check them here.
Cardboard Citizens was conceived in 1991, and since 1994 has been a theatre company limited by guarantee with charity status. They work with a specific community – in their own terms, the "homeless and displaced people", and aim to change their lives through theatre and the performing arts.
Cardboard Citizens presents plays performed by these communities, enabling them to develop skills and confidence through projects and workshops; the company also helps to meet their practical needs, by supporting them in matters of housing, education, employment, health, career and personal development. Cardboard Citizens also does theatre for general audiences so that a wider public can share in the company's learning and understanding of the issues faced by homeless people, and how life is lived on the margins.
Cardboard Citizens is also one of the leading practitioners of Forum Theatre in United Kingdom, and they employ Forum Theatre to empower the hardest-to-reach group. They demonstrate the capacity of theatre to transform lives through personal empowerment and the rebuilding of shattered confidence.
For more information on how Cardboard Citizens helps homeless people to play their part in the society, visit them here.
Makhampom Theatre Group was formed in 1981, less as a theatre group, than an activist group. Makhampom, together with its sister organisation, Maya, provided the basis of a community-oriented, educational approach to theatre, characterised by the term, "grassroot". Makhampom was fundamentally an experiment in theatre within a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) movement that was itself an experiment in progressive social and political change.
Makhampom comprises of an ad-hoc group of teachers, journalists, actors, and dancers. Its annual volunteer induction workshops have contributed to a steady stream of new members, including students, artists, activists and even monks, with various motivations and expectations.
Makhampom deals with issues like indigenous rights, environmentalism, prostitution, democracy, refugees at the Thai borders, etc. They also use theatre to educate the children and youth. They are a testament of how theatre can make societal intervention, and how the arts can serve as a tool for advocacy.
For more information on Makhampom's social causes and actions, find out here.
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