Theatre of the commons: a theatrical inquiry into the democratic engagement of former refugee families in public high school communities

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Sloane, Alysha
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This thesis describes a study that examined the creation of a theatrical commons that aimed to broaden and deepen democratic engagement among diverse citizens in one public school community. The researcher considered how Forum and Image Theatre (Boal,1979, 1995, 1998, 2002; Diamond,2007) help people to name and invent different possibilities to address complex school community challenges at an individual and community level. It involved former refugee youth, guardians, parents and the general public as they critiqued the potential of a theatrical commons to represent their voices which are at times, marginalized from decisions made in the community and at a policy level. This participatory action research project drew heavily on the theatrical imaginations of Augusto Boal and David Diamond. The aims of this work were grounded in critical theory (Apple, 2008 & 2009; Chomsky, 2000; Freire, 2008; Furman & Gruenwald, 2004; Giroux, 2008; Kincheloe & McLaren, 2005). The study itself was divided into three phases: the participants’ identification of a community problem that was of great importance to them (phase 1), a workshop series that sought to explore the tensions and complexities embedded in the community dilemma, (phase 2), and a performance by the participants in a Forum Theatre event (phase 3) that invited members of a school community to imagine new possibilities for addressing a community problem. Participants were invited to reflect critically on the ability of Image and Forum Theatre to ignite critical dialogue in a diverse school community. The study’s findings indicate that space was created for participants to raise their voices in the following ways: (1) The participants defined the social justice issue that informed the workshops and the play; (2) Image theatre troubled the hegemony of the English language; (3) The participants defined, scripted and shared their struggles in the wider community; (4) Numerous opportunities occurred in the study that provoked multiple interpretations of complex community issues, and; (5) The audience members moved from the role of observer to spect-actor on the night of the performance.
leadership, theatre, refugee, voice, critical theatrical tensions, community renewal