Humanitarian Theatre in the Great Lakes Region: Performativity, Catharsis and Individual Subjectivity within a Transnational Dramatic Genre — Maëline Le Lay

Post-conflict theatre and performing arts are often called upon to narrate stories of redemption and reformation, and Maëline Le Lay narrates how a small set of Euro-American styles have come to dominate staged drama in the Great Lakes Region. Catholic biblical reenactments of the colonial era stressed reconciliation and communion, while liberation developments in postcolonial moment such as Boal’s Forum Theatre emphasized analysis and mobilization. Yet when these models came together in the form of portable best practices for NGO-sponsored art, they were stripped of political and spiritual transformational potential by an increasingly secular and apolitical model of international humanitarian intervention. Le Lay explores the paths by which these hamstrung theatre forms have propagated across DR Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi in the form of recurrent radio and television tragedies that model Romeo-and-Juliet-style thwarted unions or noble sacrifices of reformed traitors. However, even within the proscribed space of such stylistic limitations, certain artists are finding ways to express individual subjectivities amidst generic stereotypes, an approach that ironically holds more promise for collective transformation. Such works suggest that even formulas designed to be as flexible and revolutionary as Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed can become impediments to social change, and that space must be maintained for unconventional experimentations at and on every stage of crisis response.

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