This thesis explores participatory theatre processes in relation to three groups of young people in Brisbane, Australia. The study focuses on the ‘Dreamtime Peter Pan’ project mounted by World Stage Productions, from 10th October 2010 to 11th December 2010 with three public performances on 26th and 27th of November 2010. The proponents of this project sought to inspire participants for positive change and action through peer training and capacity building and training in music, theatre and dance with professional practitioners.
The ‘Dreamtime Peter Pan’ project’s aims in relation to people-centred, participative approaches were informed by the work of Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire. The analysis is also underlined by Michael Jackson’s and James Thompson’s notions of the transformative nature of the storytelling process and performance with marginalised participants. The thesis aims to consider an element of participatory theatre work that has been given little theoretical or academic consideration in the past. Although Boal's “Theatre of the Oppressed” work is well recognised and applied in terms of their work with marginalised groups such as prisoners, groups in conflict zones, or as a social education movement in Africa for issues such as HIV/AIDS etc., the analysis of the experience of young Australians from marginalised backgrounds that is the focus of this thesis makes a new contribution to the literature on these processes.
A primary purpose in conducting the research was to draw on my experience as an applied theatre practitioner (in conflict-zones and marginalised communities) to recognise and formalise the effectiveness as well as best practices of participatory theatre through analysis of the processes involved in the ‘Dreamtime Peter Pan’ participatory theatre project. The thesis therefore sought to answer the following questions:
• What processes intersected in the development and staging of the participatory theatre project with a group of marginalised young people in Brisbane, and what facilitated or impeded these processes?
• How did the facilitators perceive the process and outcomes of the performance on the participants?
• How did the young people perceive the process and outcomes of the participatory theatre project vis-à-vis their experiences?
This practice-based research utilised a participant observation methodology guided by an epistemological framework of participatory theatre practices. The participants consisted of young people from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds drawn from both urban and rural environments who negotiated their identities and issues they face through the expressive media of music, dance and theatre. Drawing from field notes, and with the consent from all the participants and facilitators in the project, interviews and informal discussions were conducted, and data analysed thematically with the aid of photo elicitation and video journal. As the analysis demonstrates, the fact of a shared ethnic background did not necessarily draw the participants together, as other factors such as place of residence, previous theatre or performance experience and contemporary dance culture or interests were also significant to the process. These factors were found to be equally or more important in establishing relationships between the participants themselves, and between them and the project proponents, referred to as the project facilitators throughout the thesis. The analysis also considers the impact of practical matters such as limited access to resources that determined both the process of development of the project, and the final performance.
The thesis contributes to existing knowledge about participatory theatre, but also to the literature on the experience of young regional and urban-dwelling Indigenous people in Australia. Although this was not its main purpose, literature on Indigenous young people in Australia tends to deal with rural and remote-dwelling young people, and is often cast in terms of issues of marginalisation, for example, health and well-being concerns around substance abuse. This thesis considers young people’s views of the impact of a positive intervention on their ability to tackle issues related to the participants through performance, and the ‘behind-the-scenes’ processes that were entailed. This thesis also considers the ways in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people who would otherwise not work together conducted their personal and social interaction during the process and were able to work together towards successful collective outcomes. The thesis further demonstrates the value of participatory theatre techniques as a venue for positive impact in the context of social marginalisation, in this case young people in an Australian urban context.