Popular Theatre is people’s theatre speaking to the common person in their language and idiom and dealing with problems of direct relevance to this situation. It is “popular” because it attempts to involve the whole community, not just a small elite determined by class or education.
Image by Condé / Beveridge created for The River
Popular Theatre has many interpretations around the world. For GZP, its roots lie in the Latin American tradition of Popular Education. This methodology was developed over fifty years ago by adult educator Paulo Freire working with people in impoverished Brazilian communities. It is based on a learner-centred model in which the participant’s own experience is at the core of the process. Sessions focus on establishing what people already know about a social situation, then adding additional information in ways that will be meaningful to the participant. The end result is improvement of the social conditions.
In the ensuing years, Popular Education has become an important force throughout Latin America. During the 1980s, in part because of work with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a number of Toronto based adult educators learned many of the techniques and began using them in their own practice. Through their work, the methodology has been consciously adapted to the more industrialized and urban context of Northern countries.
In Edmonton, during the same period Catalyst Theatre was developing their own version of Popular Theatre. When GZP moved to Edmonton in 1998, Catalyst had already changed their mandate, but there was a tradition of this work in the city.
Banner Theatre Popular Education Workshop, 2008
Ground Zero does not see Popular Theatre as a single methodology of performance, but rather a process committed to effecting social change. We work in collaboration with communities to first set their objectives and then to determine the best theatrical methods to achieve the aims. Sometimes this will be a full stage production, other times it may be a small group workshop within the group itself.
We are, however, working with Banner Theatre to develop a workshop which draws on the Video Ballad form in the context of Popular Education. A pilot project in Hip-Hop Education at the Alberta Federation of Labour’s annual school mixed beat driven music by The People’s Poets with a Popular Education process. It addressed the challenge of organizing in culturally diverse communities using the example of how a union local was formed by the Sudanese community at a meatpacking plant in Brooks, Alberta.
Topics in Focus
GZP wants to encourage groups working in Popular Theatre to network with each other. We hope this dialogue page will provide a bit of digital space for communication. Use the email below to send us your thoughts and we’ll post them.