The meaning of aesthetics within the field of applied theatre in development settings

  • Kirsten Broekman

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis presents a comparative study of the aesthetics of three theatre initiatives from development settings: theatre company Nós do Morro in Brazil, multi-disciplinary arts centre Phare Ponleu Selpak in Cambodia, and non-profit organisation Movimiento Teatro Popular Sin Fronteras in Nicaragua. By focussing on how different judgements within the landscape of aesthetic and social worth meet, conflict or interact within the programmes, processes and outcomes of the three theatre organisations, this research articulates the different kinds of 'values' attached to the (at times) competing aesthetic criteria for practitioners, government bodies and national and international non-governmental organisations that have stakes in this work. The majority of the data in this research is qualitative, generated by interviews, stories about theatre practitioners' experiences and my own observations of performances, workshops and rehearsals.After exploring the landscape of aesthetic and social worth across the three case studies, this research points out the many ways in which international economics and global governance - manifest in tax-reduced sponsorships by global corporations, funding decisions of international interveners and cultural policies of national governments - participate and intrude into both the aesthetic and social constructions of applied theatre's artistic value, therefore framing its aesthetic sphere. The global pressure coming from the United Nations and the international humanitarian community seeking to shape applied theatre companies and make them respond to certain dynamics serves neither art nor community. This also makes it very difficult to locate an aesthetic of applied theatre in a way that is 'traditional' in discussions of aesthetics (through definition of the art 'product' alone, via reference to ideas of beauty, affect and the senses). This study therefore found a way of understanding the impact of economic and international actors on applied theatre using Appadurai's concept of the ethnoscape (1991), which offers a theoretical and analytical framework for investigating the determining factors of the aesthetics of applied theatre, and the aesthetic discourses surrounding applied theatre in development settings.I argue that applied theatre practices globally are becoming too uniform: global forms taken by transnational institutions are starting to evolve in new directions. We need to attentively investigate what the level of resistance of applied theatre companies can be. Although each art organisation is trying to find a place for applied theatre in the 'new' world, the theatre companies can hopefully resist the pressure to become the same kind of company, living in a state partially organised according to international agendas. As a result, this research proposes a more politicised, historicised kind of practice, teaching and mentoring around these questions. This will support applied theatre practitioners in finding their way in the new global world.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJames Thompson (Supervisor) & Jennifer Hughes (Supervisor)


  • Global Governance
  • Ethnoscape
  • Theatre in (Post)-Conflict zones
  • International Economics
  • Applied Theatre
  • Theatre for Development
  • Aesthetics
  • Theatre in Developing Countries

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