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Theatre and War

Nandita Dinesh

1. Why

Texte intégral

Three components to intention

1Why does a researcher-practitioner intervene with theatre in a place of war? There are two dimensions to this question: why make theatre at all in a place of war? and why make a particular theatre-based intervention in a place of war? While the first dimension is important to consider, my approach to this consideration might be best summed up by Badal Sircar (in Mitra, 2004: 68) who says, when questioned about why he makes theatre while faced with the ‘infinitesimal’ social change that his interventions might catalyse, ‘[…] what else should we do? We are people of the theatre. That is the only thing I know how to do’. In agreement with Sircar, the theatre being the only thing I know how to do, this chapter on intentionality does not seek to make a case for, or justify why, theatre practice needs to occur in conflict/post-conflict zones. Rather, it is the second dimension to the question that I seek to address: why a particular researcher-practitioner might make a certain theatrical intervention in a specific place of war. In addressing this dimension this chapter proposes three components, the clarification of which serves to elucidate the concept of intention: the primary action that the researcher-practitioner will undertake, the point on the theatremaking/performance timeline that the intervention will focus on, and the response that is sought from the chosen action and point(s) of focus.

2Although there exists a growing body of scholarly work that presents critical analyses and accounts regarding the potential and challenges of both researching and making theatre in conflict or post-conflict zones, an articulation of individual researcher-practitioner’s intentions presents a far more nebulous terrain. This nebulous quality is not always a limitation though: James Thompson’s (2009b) postulations on the potential of ‘affect’, and the prospect of ‘little changes’ that Michael Balfour (2009b) identifies, validate the importance of uncertainty in theatre-in-war work. Indeed, it is precisely because we cannot know, or entirely predict, what theatre might catalyse in a place of war that the work of researching, making, and performing theatre might become revelatory. Generally speaking, I am in agreement with Balfour and Thompson in that an affective approach to making theatre in places of war might spark unpredictable networks of significance between the theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner, their co-creators, and the various spectators. However, while I initially understood Balfour and Thompson to be advocating for an absence of intention, I have come to realize that the potential of affective frameworks is not necessarily about the lack of intentionality. Rather, by acknowledging the potential of affect and the possibility of little changes, the theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner might be provoked by Balfour and Thompson to shift how expectations are framed without discarding intentions altogether. Therefore, although the complex contexts in which theatre-in-war researcher-practitioners create their interventions might make the three components to intention that I propose in this chapter seem overly simplistic, such a straightforward (yet, layered) articulation of intentionality could become a useful point of departure for someone who is beginning their incursions with theatre in a place of war.

3My ideas about the three aspects of intentionality, for all their simplicity, are notions that remain open to being changed, to evolving through practice, and to improvisation. I say this since I want to be as clear as possible that my articulation of the three components to intentionality seeks to serve as a guide that can and will be shaped by theatre practitioner-researchers within the specific contexts in which they work. As Thompson (2003: 133) elucidates, to ‘simplistically extract the method from the specifics of the moment in which it was formed, either to reform it elsewhere or criticise it, misses the “applied” part of applied theatre’. Applying theatre to a context of war necessitates ‘an examination of how a context affects, makes demands upon or constrains at the same time as exploring how that practice adapts to or resists these determining factors’ (ibid.). Therefore, it is important to explain that the components to intention presented in this chapter do not claim to be working toward ‘an “ideal” applied-theatre practice’ (ibid.). Rather, with an understanding that the ‘pragmatics of ensuring the survival of theatre on the ground is often more impressive than the clean models constructed within the academies’ (ibid.), I present the ideas here as a way in which a theatre person who is beginning to shape their interventions in places of war might articulate and refine the ‘why’ behind their work.

4It is also important to clarify that I write this chapter as, and (possibly) for, those who have not had the lived experience of war themselves; those who are ‘outsiders’ to the experience of war and (problematically) find themselves drawn to making theatre in such contexts. As Sundar Sarukkai (2007a: 4044–4045) has pointed out, considering a lived experience outside the researcher’s own repertoire means a recognition of, and contention with, the notion of choice — ‘that there is no element of choice or freedom’ for those who embody that lived experience. Thus, when a theatre practitioner who is not from a particular conflict zone or has not had the lived experience of war himself or herself seeks to make theatre in such areas of the world, ‘[s]he has a choice and [s]he is asserting that choice’ (ibid.). This choice to engage, to intentionally partake in making theatre in a particular place of war thus also denotes ‘a choice of not participating in that experience’ and in this ‘vicarious experience’, the theatre practitioner-researcher has ‘the freedom to be a part of an experience’ or the option of leaving ‘any time if the experience is not satisfactory’ and/or ‘to modify the experience to suit one’ s needs’ (ibid.). The ways in which intentionality is developed and discussed in this chapter come from this privileged position of choice — of a theatre person choosing to engage with their art in a place of war. I must acknowledge that this choice might manifest differently, or not as a choice at all, for those practitioner-researchers who have lived experiences of war.

5The following sections of this chapter use the notion of intentionality as their point of departure, outlining and analysing the three elements that I have come to consider integral to framing and refining intention. These discussions and analyses are placed in conversation with Notes from the field, dispersed texts that intersect in varying ways with the surrounding discussion. In the spirit of the subjective nature of performance auto-ethnography, these Notes are intentionally constructed as open-ended narratives; they are not conclusive statements. However, it is my hope that by the end of the chapter, it will become clear to the reader as to the ways in which these Notes are in conversation with the more theoretical discussions that are placed alongside them. Before moving on though, I must admit to the reader that, ‘I would be lying if I said that all the theoretical implications were clear to me before designing’ my theatre-in-war interventions (Schinina, 2004: 34). Rather, much of the time, my practice and research in times and places of war have been ‘a trial-and-error experience’ and the theory that has been put forward in this writing ‘has been derived from my experiences’ (ibid.).

  • 1 Forum Theatre falls under the broad umbrella of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. The form (...)

Notes from the field
The conflict in northern Uganda is far more complicated than the violence perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It has its links to religious identities, to regional affiliations, and to national and international agendas that take on different forms and means every day. It would be impossible for me to go into the various nuances of the war in northern Uganda in a way that remotely encompasses the conflict’s multi-dimensionality. However, one of the major narratives that was shared with me — no doubt because I was an outsider — was many northern Ugandans’ incredulity at the silence of the international community in response to a war that had lasted two decades (at that time in 2005). “Why aren’t you people doing anything?” This was the constant refrain I heard…
The three examples below were among my first encounters with the ways in which theatre might intend to intervene in contexts of violence. They are experiences that catalysed my thinking about intention; about the problems of artistic works that seek ‘to do’ something in the face of war; experiences that left me with many questions about what a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner can or cannot do in the face of violence.
Example 1
So what are they supposed to be doing?
— This is role-play.
Ah, I see.
— They do this once a week.
And what are the topics usually?
— Well, sometimes it is about what they had to do in the bush when they were abducted. Today they are doing a role-play on what they will do once they are reintegrated back into their communities.
I see… And the role-play is generally effective?
― Well, yes. The children can talk about the things that they otherwise would be too ashamed to talk about.
At rehabilitation centres in northern Uganda, at the time of this research, there seemed to be a trend of using drama therapy to treat ex-child soldiers who had managed to escape from the clutches of the LRA. One of the major techniques being used in this approach to therapy was ‘role-play’; where the children were asked to re-perform the various tasks they had to execute in ‘the bush’ with the objective of getting them to deal with their pasts. In the same vein, the children were asked to perform their futures. How would they behave when they went back to their villages where people knew that they had been abducted and had, in many cases, been asked to commit acts of violence against their own families and friends?
Somewhere between my (translated) observations of the abovementioned activities at a rehabilitation centre in Lira, my conversations with returned child soldiers, and my attempts to ascertain how role-play was helping the young people work through their lives, a young man was brought in to meet this group of about thirty boys and girls who ranged in age from five to twenty five. All of these young people had been combatants in the war that still goes on in northern Uganda. Abducted. Forced to kill. Some of them had been raped. Some bore the children of their rapists. Children. All of them. This young man was brought in because he claimed to be a returned child soldier himself and wanted to stay at the centre, but none of his information seemed to be checking out. So the authorities of the rehabilitation centre brought him to meet the children who were already enrolled in the rehabilitation centre, so that they could verify the newcomer’s information. “Have any of you seen him in the bush?” the children were asked. After a resounding “NO”, one by one, the children started hurling questions at the visitor. “Who was your commandant?”, “Where were you?”, “How did you escape?” The visitor’s answers must not have been convincing enough because the consensus was that this young man was not a returned child soldier. The authorities of the centre soon had him on his way out… I don’t know how to evaluate their decision.
After this encounter, the children set off to ‘role-play’. Having been asked to enact what they would do once they returned to their communities and families, the children — the returned child soldiers — enacted scenes from schools, churches and markets for about five minutes. Ideas were thrown about like: ‘“When we go back, we will obey our parents”, ‘“We will go to school”, “We will pray and work hard”. And then the children’ s attention span was diffused and they could think of nothing else to enact about their lives to come… So the exercise rapidly broke down and I was told that I had come on a ‘not-so-good’ day.
I left the rehabilitation centre that day with many questions about the use of theatre as therapy in a place of war. In exploring my questions, it is worth quoting from Laura Edmondson (2005: 457) at length, about her response to the use of arts-based techniques by an organization called World Vision in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in northern Uganda:
These works did not function as personal expressions of trauma and healing; instead, they were assimilated into the master narrative of war. The counsellors used representations of life in captivity as evidence of suffering, and lighthearted drawings as affirmations of World Vision’s success at rehabilitation. Their value as a marketing tool exceeds the center’s walls, as replications of these drawings are found in the brochures that the visitors take as souvenirs and on World Vision’s Web site in the pages devoted to northern Uganda. The weight that these drawings carry helps to contextualize the ways in which the children’s artistic expression was circumscribed. As the visitors examined the paintings and drawings, the counsellors did not mention their tendency to grade the children’s work — a practice that seems antithetical to therapeutic discourse, which calls for traumatized victims to purge their painful memories in a space that is theoretically free of evaluation and judgment.
If arts-based interventions are intended to function as therapy, what are the parameters for ‘success’? And more importantly, what are the parameters for ‘failure’?
Example 2
Visualize if you can, an Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp in northern Uganda. Rows and rows of huts so close together that if one of them caught fire, the whole camp would go down in flames in seconds. Barefoot, malnourished children. Men without jobs, women with nothing but a cup of beans to feed a family of seven for a week, no shelter from the rain, no drains in the toilets. And a life that is defined by waiting. Waiting for the end of the war. Waiting for the government and the rebels to make a deal. Waiting for the international community to harbour a solution. Just waiting. One sunny, humid afternoon, I went to such a camp with a theatre group. Utterly intrigued by the idea that they were going to perform in an IDP camp, I told myself that this was the ‘essence’ of my kind of work. And though signing a disclaimer for the NGO coordinating the event made me quite nervous — the camp was on the outskirts of town and we weren’t quite sure when the rebels would attack, so the NGO had to have their bases covered — I went along for the ride. And this is part of the play that I witnessed: People are praying in a church. As they sing praises to the Almighty, a group of rebels storms in with guns and machetes. They threaten to kill everyone there. Frightened, one man begins to pray harder. The rebels are so taken with his devotion and are so impressed by the fact that he is ‘saved’ that they do not kill him. They decide to let the people live and go on their way.
Huddled next to a translator, I watched the play unfold. Slowly but surely, I began to realize the point that the play was making. This theatre group had gone to the IDP camp in order to tell people that they should be ‘saved’ i.e. become born-again Christians, if they wanted to come out of the war alive. Being ‘saved’ was the answer, no matter what the question… The play ran for three very long hours and was then followed by priests who carried on with the message put forward by the actors. The Italian NGO funding the play, the actors in the play, and the priests who came on after the performance, wanted a very specific message to be sent out to the inhabitants of the camp. A message from which they wanted a very specific and tangible outcome. They wanted an audience of converts; an audience of ‘the saved’.
There is one moment from that afternoon that I still remember vividly. At the beginning of the play, the audience had been warned, “There will be a scene where actors will come out dressed in rebel uniforms. When this happens, please do not worry, they are only actors”, we were told. We were not told when in the play this would happen, just that it was going to occur. An hour into the play, during the church scene mentioned above, men in camouflage burst upon the stage. My heart lurched. I thought about that disclaimer that I had had to sign. I thought about the fact that the war was not over yet. The men in camouflage burst onto the stage, and I thought they were the rebels. And I wasn’t alone. Every child in the audience leapt up from her seat and began to run. Some crying, others just fleeing. In a war that had primarily brutalized children, the kids had been warned from very young ages to run when they think the rebels are coming. The rebels came — on stage — and run they did. It might not sound like something too grave. I mean they were children after all and they didn’t know what they were seeing was a play. But yet, if that reaction, that impulse to flee, does not make one sit up and take stock of reality — what will? Seeing those kids dart up and run. Hearing intermittent crying for about ten minutes after the fateful scene. Seeing the priests then come on stage and tell people to be saved… Those are moments that I cannot ever forget. Moments that I just watched as they happened.
What was the artists’intention here? What was their intention in creating a work that, they knew, might terrify some or all of their spectators? If their intention was simply ‘to save’ their audiences, how were they negotiating the ethics of that decision? Furthermore, given that the funding for this work came from an Italian NGO that had a very specific agenda, of religious conversion, how were the northern Ugandan artists negotiating their own intentions with those of the funding body? Given how troubled I was by the intentions of this particular theatre-in-war intervention, I began to ask myself what kind of work I could create as an outsider with the intention of ‘doing something’ about the war in northern Uganda.
Example 3
The war, the warrior, and the world
The Setting
A rehabilitation centre in northern Uganda that has two sections: one for returned child-soldiers and the other for returned commanders from the LRA who have taken advantage of the government’s amnesty act in order to return from ‘the bush’.
The Characters
Joseph: Returned LRA commander.
Adrian: British counsellor at the centre for returned commanders.
Kathy: Returned child-soldier.
Beatrice: Joseph’s wife. Played by the same actor playing Kathy.
Joker: A character inspired by the Joker from Forum Theatre.1
Beatrice is the woman that Joseph keeps seeing in his dreams, in his nightmares. We find out over the course of the play how Joseph first became a commander in the LRA, how he ‘acquired’ Beatrice as his wife, and how he now (at the rehabilitation centre) sees Kathy as Beatrice. While it is initially unclear as to whether or not Kathy is in fact Beatrice, we gradually discover that Joseph knows the truth. Kathy is not Beatrice. Kathy is not his wife. His former wife. His former wife whom he had to kill when she tried to run away from him. From the LRA. The play ends with Joseph asking Adrian for permission to return to the bush, to return to being a commander in the LRA, and to return to the world that he knows.
The Joker’s contributions are integrated throughout the play as verbatim texts from publically available archives and material gathered from my interviews in Lira in 2005 i.e., as documentary components to an otherwise fictional narrative. The Joker in this play — while inspired by elements of Forum Theatre — was not intended to adhere to Augusto Boal’s conceptualization of the facilitator. Rather, the character of the Joker in this play was crafted to provide documentary information about the context and situate the interactions between Joseph, Kathy, Beatrice, and Adrian within the particularities of the conflict in northern Uganda, for an audience of college-going students in the United States.
The War, the Warrior, and the World were initially conceptualized as three separate one-act plays. The first segment (The War) was a Verbatim Theatre piece that took publically available archival information and material from the interviews that I had conducted in 2005. The second segment (The Warrior) was created as a fictional, ‘straight’ play that spoke to the voices of LRA commanders (like Joseph), who might have been said to exist in the space between ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’. The third segment (The World) was structured as a Forum Theatre piece, inviting my non-Ugandan spect-actors to think about the international community’s approach to what was happening in northern Uganda and to brainstorm ideas about what we could ‘do’ about the war.
After a first phase of performing the pieces as three one-act plays, I conducted an informal assessment and asked my spectators which of the three pieces they had found to be most ‘affective’. While the questionnaires used in these assessments were not as robust as they could have been, the general trend of the responses I received suggested that it was the second piece (The Warrior) that the spectators most responded to; that made them want to know more about what was happening in northern Uganda and to consider their own role as international bystanders to what was/is unfolding in the region. In light of this feedback and still wanting to respect the ‘facts’ that had been shared with me in Lira, I decided to create a blend of approaches in the final performance i.e., to interweave elements of Verbatim Theatre from The War, with the fictional setting and narratives in The Warrior, and the character of the informative Joker from The World.
The second, interwoven version of the play was possibly more ‘successful’ in terms of my intention to affect an audience with no knowledge about northern Uganda. But in terms of my intentions to ‘do something’; to catalyse a response that would manifest as campaigns to contribute toward the end of the war in some way… I realized at the end of that project just how naïve my intentions were. As I write this book a decade later and read over my notes from northern Uganda, I am ashamed of the ignorance of the voice that stares back at me. In retrospect, I cannot believe that I did not more carefully craft and articulate my intention in that project; that I did not more rigorously question why I was doing what I was doing. Had I sat down with more purpose, not only to say what I was going to do but also to defend that choice — if only to myself — perhaps my work would have been more ethical and perhaps even ‘done’ something. Rather than selfishly serving my own learning and not much else.

If we do not say why we are doing our work, what our beliefs are and why we work with particular communities, someone else will do it for us (Thompson, 2003: 195).

6There are three components that I have come to identify as being important in a theatre-in-war intervention’s intentionality: the primary action that the researcher-practitioner will undertake, the specific point on the theatre-making/performance timeline that will be focussed on, and the response that will be sought as a result of the chosen action and point(s) of focus.

7The first component requires the theatre practitioner-researcher to specify the primary action they will employ. Is the theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner’s primary action to research? Is it to create? Is it to write? Is it to teach? Clarifying this action-based component within the intentionality of a theatre-in-war intervention is integral since, as Pierre Bourdieu (in Barrett and Bolt, 2007: 6) says, ‘reflexivity demands that both the researcher and her/his methods be submitted to the same questions that are asked of the object of the enquiry’. In order to be able to dissect, question, and reflect on our chosen methods, we first need to establish clarity around the particular action/actions that we will undertake. Although such an assertion of action will no doubt be influenced by various other considerations vis-à-vis the context and the practitioner-researcher’s repertoire, this action-focused component of intentionality invites the theatre-in-war practitioner-researcher to articulate their primary mode of operating in, and engaging with, the conflict zone in question. This clarification of action does not need to involve only one strategy and it is entirely possible that the theatre researcher-practitioner might seek to research and create, to create and perform, and to perform and write and teach. Regardless of whether the primary strategy is one that will be adopted in isolation, or whether the strategy will involve a combination of actions, being clear and honest about the action(s) that will define the theatre-in-war intervention’s implementation is the first component I have found to be necessary in clarifying intentionality.

8The chosen action is afforded a degree of nuance by clarifying the exact space on the theatre-making/performance timeline at which the emphasis of a particular project will lie. Is the primary intention of the work to explore the potential of the processes of creation? Is the primary goal of a theatre maker’s intervention in a place of war, the creation and performance of an aesthetic product? Or is it the ‘impact’ that occurs because of the process or performance that is the primary site of focus within the researcher-practitioner’s intentionality? I have come to think that such a precise approach in locating the site of emphasis is necessary so as to not ‘hide their purpose or the likely results of using them’ i.e., pretending ‘to be “only” doing a community play if there is an intention to also do research’ (Thompson, 2003: 170–171). Just as ‘you do not claim “research results” having only been explicit about your aim of creating a piece of community-based theatre’, you facilitate ‘a “theatre workshop” in a prison’ only to use ‘the experience as a diagnostic exercise to assess behaviour” (ibid.). Being precise about where exactly in the theatremaking/performance timeline the focus lies is seminal in articulating intention. Therefore, by placing the precise point(s) within the theatremaking/performance timeline where the site of focus might lie in conversation with the primary action(s) to be undertaken, the theatre project’s intentionality might be given additional layers of nuance.

9In thinking about this second layer to refining a theatre-in-war intervention’s intentionality, there are three spaces that I would like to put forward with regards to the theatre-making/performance timeline: the processes of creation (i.e., workshops, rehearsals, and discussions that might lead to the creation of a final performance), the aesthetic products (i.e., the creation and execution of a performance), and outcomes (i.e., the intangible or tangible impacts that are intended to be caused as a result of the processes and/or performances). Before exploring each of these spaces, it is important that I clarify two things. Firstly, I do not see these three spaces on the theatre-making/performance timeline as being mutually exclusive. It is inevitable, during practice, for these spaces to overlap with each other: for example, an outcome-oriented project could simultaneously place emphasis on the processes of creation and the final performance. That said, the three categories are simply offered here as starting points from which a theatre researcher-practitioner might begin to frame their intentions in a context of war. Secondly, within each of the three spaces of focus that I present on the theatre-making/performance timeline, the ensuing considerations might apply quite differently based on whether the theatre-maker is an outsider to the context or is someone with the lived experience of that context. While the intersections between a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner’s positioning and their intentionality will be considered further in the chapter on Where, the discussion below aims to capture some of the characteristics of each of these spaces of focus, independent of other factors.

10Going back to the three points on the theatre-making/performance timeline that are mentioned above — the processes of creation, aesthetic products, and post-process/post-performance outcomes — I see a focus on the processes of creation as emphasizing the use of theatrical strategies in the design and execution of workshops. This focus on process can involve the use of theatrical techniques and strategies to create spaces that are ‘characterized by uncertainty, by a searching and by emergence as responsive to aspects of the process’ (Levine, 2013: 27). In such an approach to the process, I consider the work of practitioners and researchers who seek to ‘neither predict nor control the outcome’ and instead, as Shaun McNiff (in ibid.) has advised, ‘trust the process’. Although such process-focused endeavours need not work toward a specifically articulated post-process effect or impact, they do not simply vanish without a trace; rather, ‘what is gone lingers and leaves tell-tale footprints all over the reality it helped to bring about’ (Arditi, 2012: 9). As such, in the context of theatre processes, it is entirely possible that, ‘new configurations emerge that themselves will leave traces — gestures, shrugs, smiles, verbal quips, frowns and hand movements — from which future interactions may be constructed’(Balfour, Hughes, and Thompson, 2009a: 57). While ‘the strength of this process depends on the length and the context of the project’, it might be said that ‘even the shortest theatre workshop’ has the potential to ‘leave networks between people, creating new minute linked action fragments that can compete, constrict or lie above hurtful marks from the past’ (Thompson, 2003: 68).

11That said, although there is potential for theatrical processes to cause unpredictable traces amongst its participants, there certainly exist manifestations of process-focussed theatre-in-war projects that simultaneously seek a particular outcome — be it the creation of a performance, or a tangible/intangible post-process outcome. For example, using theatre as a methodology to create dialogue between members from opposing sides of a conflict includes both an intentional focus on the process and an emphasis on an expected outcome from that process. Similarly, designing a devised theatre workshop that culminates in the creation of an original performance can be seen as prizing both the process of creation and its resulting aesthetic work. While overlaps and intersections between process, product, and outcome are certainly possible (and perhaps, inevitable) I wonder if prioritizing one particular site of focus might enable us to more ethically navigate the intentions of our theatre-in-war interventions. In this prioritization, other focuses are given the space to emerge; but always with the primary point of focus in mind.

12It is important to point out here that although my primary consideration for process-focussed work speaks to mechanisms that underscore theatrical processes between co-creators and participants in scenarios like devised theatre workshops, there are two other ways in which an emphasis on process might manifest in one’s intentionality: a focus on the researcher-practitioner’s process and a focus on process-based spectatorship. With reference to the former, engaging with theatrical practices in a place of war provides manifold opportunities for the researcher-practitioner to gain auto-ethnographic insights. Since the practice of making theatre requires a responsive spirit from the researcher-practitioner, in this ‘orientation to improvisation’ the theatre maker/researcher ‘must accomplish two goals: on the one hand, they must provide a direction for the research and intervene in order to keep it on track. On the other hand, they must be sensitive to what is emerging and be willing to go down unexpected pathways’ (Levine, 2013: 24). By keeping their focus on the Self’s processes of auto-ethnographic engagement therefore, the researcher-practitioner is asked to be honest about the centrality of their own learning and discovery to the theatre-in-war project, without laying claim to what might occur for co-creators and/or spectators. This focus on the processes of the researcher-practitioner tends to prize ‘intimacy and involvement as forms of understanding’ and this particular focus, in turn, ‘allows the self to be vulnerable to its own experiences as well as to the experiences of the other’ (Behar in Denzin, 2003a: 16). In this approach to auto-ethnographic positioning and a focus on the processes of the Self, ‘experience becomes a starting point, an object of inquiry that can be affirmed, critically interrogated, and used as a resource to engage broader modes of knowledge and understanding’ (Giroux, 2011: 157).

13Of course, there is no denying that the potential within such an auto-ethnographic approach carries the risk of being extremely self-indulgent. When Edmondson (2013: 8) speaks of her work in northern Uganda, for example, she acknowledges that the experience ‘was rich for us. For me’[emphasis in original]. Speaking to the implications of ‘envisioning how I would write about it’ while ‘these complicated events played out’, Edmondson (ibid.) asks her readers to think about ‘the implications of using theatre activism as a source of knowledge’. While an open acknowledgement of the importance of the theatre researcher-practitioner’s selfish motives might be applauded for its humility and honesty, in a similar vein to Edmondson, Ivan Illich (1968) cautions his listeners against this kind of self-focused engagement in his scathing critique of volunteerism in Mexico. While ‘[t]here exists the argument that some returned volunteers [will] have gained insight into the damage they have done to others — and thus become more mature people’, it is important to understand that the possible ‘damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn’ t have been volunteers in the first place’(ibid.). Given the fraught contexts in which theatre-in-war researcher-practitioners find themselves in, any focus on the processes of the Self, for all its humility and honesty, must be cognizant of its potential to propagate an unethical way of being in a context of war.

14In addition to a possible focus on the creative processes of co-creators and participants in a workshop environment and the researcher-practitioner’s potentially problematic focus on their own processes of engagement with, and learning from, the context in question, begs the question what might process mean for spectators? The idea of process-based spectatorship emerged for me during on-going work in Kashmir, where a need for process-based approaches to spectatorship stemmed from audience responses to the novelty of theatrical activity in that context. By observing my spectators’anxiety in a theatrical setting and by understanding the ethical implications of making already edgy audience members more nervous because of the novelty that theatrical experiences represented, I had to consider how my spectators in Kashmir might be better cared for. Are there ways to create processes for audience members where, like creators in a devised theatre workshop, spectators might be given the tools to decode a theatrical event? While more details about process-based spectatorship will be discussed in What and When, I bring up the notion of a process-based spectatorship in this chapter since this particular insight might be one that adds to the researcher-practitioner’s articulation of intention. Although it might be argued, as many have, that spectatorship at any live performance event is composed of multiple processes of cognition and emotion, what I refer to as process-based spectatorship is the design and implementation of ‘workshop-like’ processes that seek to frame or facilitate a particular theatrical experience for its spectators. There is much more to be said about the notion of a process-based spectatorship and it is a concept that I will return to, and expand upon, later in this book.

15Since the consideration of process-based spectatorship has taken us to the realm of preparing spectators for a theatrical event i.e., a performance, let us move on now to a consideration of what such a focus on the aesthetic work might entail for a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner’s framing of intentionality. In comparison with theatre-in-war projects that focus on process, I propose a second possibility: of theatre-in-war work that focuses on the creation and performance of a particular aesthetic work. It might be easiest to understand this category as akin to what Richard Schechner and James Thompson (2004: 14) call a theatre that seeks to ‘transform experience into art’. Although all three spaces that I propose on the theatre-making/performance timeline could result in the creation of an aesthetic outcome, the particularity of this focus might be said to lie in the centrality of the aesthetic product or performance to the theatrical intervention. I consider here, theatre-in-war interventions that assert the value of the aesthetic product in and of itself i.e. the interventions that assert that the goal of their arts-based research in places of war is the creation of art. Therefore, those who choose to focus on this particular space on the theatre-making/performance timeline might consider the fact that seeking anything apart from the aesthetic outcome itself stands the risk of ‘relegating the artwork to the status of a by-product’, leading ‘to a utilitarian view of what art can be’ (Smith and Dean, 2009: 68). While an impulse to focus solely on the creation of something aesthetic — to transform an experience into art — ‘may appear to be a distraction’ or ‘an escape into a safe imagined world’, it is important to consider that the ‘aesthetic project is a political project: a demand for creativity and imagination becomes at the same time a statement of resistance to war’ (Balfour, Hughes, and Thompson, 2009a: 28). Thus, focusing on an artistic creation is not ‘more’ or ‘less’ than interventions that focus on processes and post-process/post-performance outcomes. A focus on aesthetic creations, I propose, is simply a different way to engage with one’s intention as a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner.

16The reader will no doubt have noticed in the discussion thus far that theatrical processes, aesthetic works, and post-process/post-performance outcomes intersect with each other in multiple ways. However, while it is important to recognize the overlaps and to refrain from seeing any of these spaces of focus as functioning in isolation from the other categories, a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner would be well-advised to begin with an effort to locate a precise space of focus. In so doing, I believe that we will be better positioned to evaluate our interventions and to better understand what we can and cannot do in a place of war. Having explored what it might mean for theatre-in-war projects to focus on processes and performances, I turn my attention now to the third component of the theatre-making/performance timeline: post-process/post-performance outcomes.

17While outcome-oriented theatre projects might also place importance on processes and/or performances, I see the main driving factor of such endeavours as being the manifestation of a particular, desired result after the processes and/or performances have ended. In these uses of theatre for ‘change’, the theatrical intervention might be seen as being — in Augusto Boal’s famous words — ‘a rehearsal for revolution’. By emphasising theatrical strategies that might catalyse behavioural changes and foster result-oriented impacts, researcher-practitioners who focus on outcome-based work seek to use the theatre as a means through which they might (re)solve specific issues facing the conflictzones in which they intervene. By focussing on finding solutions and changing the status quos, such approaches to theatre in places of war might generally be seen as being predicated on creating tangible changes. That said, not all outcome-oriented work seeks to focus on tangible results; indeed, ‘outcome’ might signify more intangible results like heightening spectators’awareness of a particular issue or question. Speaking to outcomes therefore necessitates a careful discussion about the kind of result that a theatre-in-war intervention intends. Embarking on a conversation about outcomes gives rise to the third component of intention: the response that is desired by a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner from their chosen action(s) and spaces of focus on the theatre-making/performance timeline.

Notes from the field
The work that I witnessed and created with regards to the war in northern Uganda was seminal in my thinking about intention. When I went into my next major theatre-in-war intervention in Rwanda, the insights gleaned from Uganda gave me much to think about. How would I find ways to carefully assess the ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ of my interventions? How would I stay away from propaganda? How would I more carefully craft my intention?
My first significant project in Rwanda involved working with a local NGO that had larger goals of post-conflict reconstruction and peace building. As such, this NGO’s primary mandate was the creation of process-based activities like workshops, competitions, and seminars that would reduce the likelihood of events like 1994 recurring in Rwanda. My first project with this NGO was therefore easier to articulate an intention for, since the leaders of the organization gave an intention to me: “We want a theatre-based training program that fits with the mandates of our organization”, I was told. When I was designing the theatre training program for the young people in this NGO the intentions of the organization became my own. I was going to design a yearlong training program that would culminate in a theatre festival. In order to do this, the training program would focus primarily on theatrical processes over the course of the year, with an additional focus on creating a performance for the festival that would be toured to different towns in Rwanda. In addition, I had to be cognizant of the kinds of post-process/post-performance outcomes that the NGO wanted from the project: of cultivating a culture of dialogue amongst their NGO’s participants and of preventing the reoccurrence of genocide in Rwanda. Despite how immense this NGO’s goals were, being invited to design a program that would specifically embody their intentions offered a safety net that I could cling on to. After all, I had to shape my intentions based on the goals of the NGO, right?
So, it was only when I decided to craft an independent project in Rwanda on the heels of this NGO-commissioned work that I had to go back to the drawing board. For my second (independent) project, I told myself that I intended to contribute to the post-conflict reconstruction of Rwanda — no doubt heavily influenced by the rhetoric of my prior work — oblivious to what this actually meant. Did I intend to cultivate safe spaces of creation for my co-creators? Did I intend to write about these experiences or to create new performances? Would I focus on ‘post-conflict reconstruction’ within the spaces of the rehearsal room or was I looking for post-performance outcomes amongst my spectators? My ideas about ‘post-conflict reconstruction’ were patronising, neo-colonial even; but I didn’t have the critical lens to see that at the time. I didn’t understand that going in with good intentions was not enough. I didn’t understand how to clarify my intentionality and how to think beyond my frames of reference. My independent work, therefore, was riddled with uncertainties. Every time I made a choice, I was faced with unexpected repercussions of that choice. With a large goal like ‘post-conflict reconstruction’, without a clear action that would guide my work, and without a specific point on the theatre-making/performance timeline around which I would shape my project, I was lost.
This lack of clarity led to immense frustration.
Frustration that manifested in heated disagreements with collaborators.
Frustration that led me to develop a not-so-healthy relationship with alcohol.
Frustrations that arose because I didn’t know,
I wasn’t able to explain to myself,
why I was doing what I was doing.
So much of this I have realized in retrospect, when I have gone into new theatrein-war interventions with a better understanding of my intentionality and realized how ill-formed my ideas were in Rwanda. While I think, I hope, that my work in Rwanda did not cause any negative consequences for my collaborators and spectators, I remain embarrassed by how inexperienced my thinking was at the time.
When I left Rwanda late in 2008 I told myself that I was leaving because my projects didn’t need me anymore. That my work with the NGO was in a position to be carried on by my local collaborators. That my independent work was ‘done’. If I am to be honest though, I left because I didn’t know how to take my work forward. I left because I didn’t have a proper intention. I left because, in many ways, I ‘failed’.
After leaving Rwanda, I changed my way of thinking. I told myself that it was the idea of ‘changing’ anything, of ‘doing’ something, which was the problem. So, during my work in Kenya, in Mexico, in Nagaland, I told myself that I needed to go back to the ‘art’ of my work and focus solely on aesthetics. I decided to focus on ‘affect’ leaving behind the quest ‘to do’ anything; leaving behind my quest for ‘effect’. It was only a matter of time however, before I realized how flawed that approach was as well. That drawing a simplistic binary between affect and effect was… rudimentary, and ultimately, would not go much further in helping me articulate my intentions.
It was in Kashmir, where my spectators constantly questioned me — “Why are you doing this work?” — that I seriously took an exploration of the affect/effect binary. However, while finding some of the philosophical discussions surrounding these terms to be useful in furthering an understanding of my intentions, I still found myself unable to translate my intentions in nonacademic terms. I didn’t know how to engage with a questioning of my intention when it was posed to me by anyone who did not have access to the discussions about affect and effect that I was basing my re-articulated intentions on.
“So what are you seeking to do with this play in Kashmir?”
“There is not one concrete goal; it’s up to the spectators what they want to take from it”.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, I just don’t think I can aim to do one specific thing as the creator of a piece of theatre. What happens after my workshops and performances is unpredictable and there is a beauty to that unpredictability. I’ve been reading a lot about this concept called ‘affect’, which actually talks about the potential of not seeking a particular kind of impact as a result of the theatre”.

He looked at me with scepticism in his eyes.
Not aiming to do something specific.
This, coming from a non-Kashmiri, ‘mainland’ Indian theatre director.
— mainland implying my being from a part of India that does not question its allegiance to the Indian nation-state —
Could he believe me?
Could he trust, what seemed to be, my lack of intention?
“But surely there is something you’re looking to achieve?”
How could I communicate my intention better?
Not only to myself, but also to my collaborators and spectators?
How could I articulate my intention better?
In a way that would resonate with academic and non-academic audiences alike?

18In order to embark on a discussion about the third component to intention that I propose — of interactions between intention and response — I would like to begin with a consideration of affect. A concept that has been discussed extensively in the realm of theatre-inwar by Thompson (2009: 128), the ‘no point’ of affect is considered its ‘critical point of departure’. Although affect’s deviation from established terminologies and frameworks might ‘antagonize the dogma of change’ (Balfour, 2009b: 355), working with such an approach has been said to foster the possibility for a theatre-in-war practitioner-researcher to work beyond ideologies and to look, instead, to what theatrical practice might reveal. It is this potential that leads Thompson (2009: 111) to call for a participatory theatre that focuses ‘on affect rather than effect’ when making or considering the use of theatre in contexts of war. Extrapolating upon the potential of affect, Thompson (ibid.) states that by avoiding ‘the anticipation or extraction of meaning as the primary impulse of an applied theatre process’, the theatre practitioner-researcher in places of war might come to realize that ‘working with affect awakens individuals to possibilities beyond themselves without an insistence on what the experience is — what meanings should be attached’. While this insistence on affect could be seen as an excuse for theatre-in-war practitioners to be absolved from having to provide clear articulations for the repercussions of their work, Thompson (ibid.: 182) clarifies that ‘starting from affect does not mean a flight from clear statements or a fierce denunciation of acts of injustice — but grounds it in our humility and lack of superiority’. Perhaps then, it would be appropriate to consider affect, as Balfour (2009b: 356) does, as an intentional move away from ‘the need for change rhetoric, impact assessments and the strain for verifiable measurements in defining applied theatre’ towards emphasising, instead, research that generates ‘propositions about how theatre actually works’.

19While I was oblivious to these considerations when I first went to northern Uganda in 2005, when I later encountered discussions surrounding the term ‘affect’, my thinking was extremely simplistic. Taking Thompson’s approach to the ‘no point’ of affect as my primary point of departure in multiple theatre projects, I all too simplistically considered affect to exist in a binary opposition to effect. In this naïve reflection, I opined that an affective positioning was perhaps the most ethical stand that a theatre-in-war practitioner-researcher could assume when intervening in a context where they were considered ‘outsiders’. Likening effect to the generation of tangible outcomes and concrete solutions, meant that the implication that affects are also effects in their own right eluded me for a long while. It was only once the necessity for a more nuanced demarcation between affect and effect emerged through my practice that I began to find it impossible to disentangle myself from the complexities and histories of these two terms. Thus, I began to ask myself how I might reframe the discussion about affect/effect in a way that would better inform the intentionality of my practice.

20In my attempts to reframe the affect/effect discussion, I have settled on the less contentious terms of ‘intention’ and ‘response’. As such, I propose three cases of intention/response interactions below; cases that theatre-in-war interventions might explore when framing their intentionality. Once again it is imperative to mention that I see the three cases proposed below not as being mutually exclusive from each other. Rather, I see them as starting points to assist a more careful articulation of what we might seek to achieve with our theatrical interventions in places of war. As the Notes above suggest, I have often encountered immense challenges in articulating my affective positioning for collaborators and spectators who do not have access to academic discussions surrounding these notions. Reframing the affect/effect discussion as intention/response interactions allows me, in the second place, to share these articulations with colleagues outside of academia in a way that is both accessible and nuanced.

21In the first case of the intention/response interaction, Case 1, I consider interventions in which there is a particular intention that is desired in the long-term, albeit, a change that is not intended to be tangible or quantified. This intention might be the desire for the issues explored in a theatrical experience to remain present in audience members’repertoires in the long-term, or an intention to leave enduring traces of theatre making in the participants of a devised theatre workshop, or the desire to provoke long-term auto-ethnographic insights for the researcher-practitioner herself. I consider in Case 1 therefore, the theatre-in-war interventions that intentionally seek to leave specific kinds of traces that ‘last beyond the event’ and ‘linger’ (Thompson, 2005: 235) i.e., that while the response ‘does not have to happen at the moment of the performance’ there is an intended goal for the traces of the theatrical intervention to be sustained over time. In such an articulation of response, it might be said that fruition of the intention is based on the intervention’s ‘memorial afterlife’ (Ginters, 2010: 12); a memorial afterlife that in working toward goals such as ‘sensitization’ or ‘education’, for example, might not always be measurable in quantifiable terms but, nonetheless achieves longterm goals that the practitioner-researcher had intended to provoke. The intention to provoke a memorial afterlife of this kind forces us to question how memorial afterlives might be monitored or assessed. How will the theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner maintain channels of communication open with their collaborators and spectators, so as to ensure that their intention to create an intangible memorial afterlife has been met?

22In the second case of intention/response, Case 2, I consider works in which there is no intention (on the part of the researcher-practitioner) to control or predict responses in either the short or long term, that is where there is an articulated intention not to frame, control, or direct the possibility of a memorial afterlife. The intention for a memorial afterlife is thus the primary point of distinction, for me, between interventions in Case 1 and Case 2. In the latter, as Thompson states (2009b: 111), the objective might simply be to rouse ‘individuals to possibilities beyond themselves without an insistence on what the experience is — what meanings should be attached’. Balfour (2007: 5) draws from George Brandt (2001), who writes about his own experiences during the Second World War in this vein:

there is no cause to praise these theatrical activities beyond their merits. They served the needs of the moment and that was enough. They were effective morale boosters for participants and spectators alike — for as long as the effects lasted.

23The ‘affect’ in Case 2 is similar to what Thompson (2003: 138–139) describes when stating that the unpredictability of what might happen during and after the theatrical event ‘is crucial for understanding and discussing applied theatre’ and that the intent might never be the same ‘as the outcome’. For example, simply ‘because a project announces itself as a health education play does not mean automatically that an audience member will attend a clinic. They could be inspired to build a school’ (ibid.). Theatre-in-war interventions that I see as part of Case 2 thus allow for the possibility of a memorial afterlife but are not created with the specific intention of provoking them.

24In comparison to the articulations of intention and response in Cases 1 and 2, I would like to propose a third case of intention/response. In Case 3 I consider theatre-in-war interventions that point precisely toward what meanings should be attached to their processes and performances, with the aim of evaluating the transmission of those meanings in a quantifiable way. In such cases I see the practitioner-researcher as intervening with the intention to create a particular result that might be seen and/or measured: that a specific skill will be learned by audience members through a process-based spectatorship, or that participants in a devised theatre workshop will be trained in a particular theatrical technique, or that the researcher-practitioner will come away with a specifically targeted insight. Going back to Example 2 from northern Uganda that was shared in the Notes, when the theatre company in the IDP camp follows its performance about ‘being saved’ with sermons from preachers who seek to convert spectators, it is not simply an unquantifiable memorial afterlife that is desired. The NGO funding the performance seeks a specific outcome as a result of its adopted methodology i.e., they hope for a certain number of religious conversions to occur as a result of their performance. While the likelihood of individuals converting their religious beliefs and becoming ‘saved’ will be shaped by their affective responses to the performance, what is of primary importance to the creators (i.e., their intention) is not the potential of those affective responses but rather, how those affective responses then manifest as targeted behavioural changes vis-à-vis spectators’ religious identities. As such, in line with works in Case 1, interventions that ascribe such tangible outcomes might want to consider the implementation of forms of monitoring and evaluation to bear out the changes that they have sought to catalyse. Some thoughts about what it might mean to design such evaluations are included in the Conclusions.

25The three cases of intention/response interactions above are proposals from which a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner might add an additional dimension to how they frame intentionality. Ultimately, these ideas seek to provoke more specificity about the responses that a theatre-in-war intervention is intended to generate — a tangible afterlife, an intangible afterlife, or an articulated intention to not consider the afterlife at all. Through these proposals I do not seek to undermine the unpredictability that is inherent to theatrical work.

26Instead, I specifically chose to label the proposals above as interactions between intention/response since a more specific articulation of the response that is desired from a theatre-in-war intervention might assist a researcher-practitioner in honing their intention.

Notes from the field
Why theatre?
Why theatre in times and places of war?
I have been asked these questions innumerable times. By my family. By friends. By colleagues. By spectators. The only people who do not ask me this question, who don’t need to ask me these question, are fellow theatre-in-war researchers and practitioners who simply ‘get it’.
Over the years, my answers have been various.
Sometimes long and winding and inarticulate;
Sometimes short and succinct;
Sometimes obscuring as much as I reveal.
These are questions that I always ask myself too. Every day.
Why do this work?
Because encountering aesthetics in times and spaces that are otherwise defined by the horrors of violence can be exhilarating evidence of the indefatigable human spirit.
Because the use of art in spaces of violence could, just maybe, reduce the chances of violence occurring again.
Because creative spaces can manifest as zones for resistance and safety in contexts that are otherwise tenuous and volatile.
Because I am a ‘dark’ tourist, vicariously looking for experiences that I have not lived.

27There are many combinations and permutations of the three components to intentionality that might evolve from the discussions above. The first component to intentionality that I suggest is a clear articulation about the primary action that will be undertaken by the researcher-practitioner. Once the primary action has been chosen, I suggest that intention might be further refined by considering the theatre-in-war intervention’s space of focus within the theatre-making/performance timeline: the processes of creation, the artistic product, the post-process/post-performance outcomes, or a combination of some or all of the above. And finally, once these components to intention have been defined and chosen, I ask if we might be more specific about the kind of response we seek to generate through our actions and spaces of focus. Are we seeking to create an intangible — yet specific — memorial afterlife? Are we intentionally focusing on the unpredictable affects that might occur without focusing on afterlives? Or are we, through our theatre-in-war interventions, seeking a tangible/measurable afterlife that results in changes within ourselves, our collaborators, and/or our spectators? Or is it a combination of some/all these three cases that we intend with our work? By asking these questions, a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner might be able to develop more nuanced ideas with which to frame, articulate, and refine why we do what we do — a framing that will subsequently impact where we work, who we work with, the aesthetic strategies we use, and the temporal components of our theatrical interventions. While my choices of where to do my work sometimes occurred in haphazard ways, I have come to wonder if the context of war in which we choose to intervene might best be identified after our intentions have been clarified. By following this sequence — using the Why to get to the Where — I wonder if more responsible choices might be made by the theatre researcher-practitioner in a place of war. Onward then, to questions of location: Where.


1 Forum Theatre falls under the broad umbrella of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. The form is best known for placing the spectator-actor (the spect-actor) within the frame of the performance, so as to brainstorm solutions to problems being faced by a specific community.


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