Community theatre in context

The great German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote in 1948 in a seminal essay entitled ‘A Short Organum for the Theatre’:

We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself‘.

Brecht viewed theatre as very much embedded in its time. He advocated for a theatre that claimed its responsibility to reflect and explore the tensions, contradictions and conflicts of the particular historical moment in which it took place. He also recognised that theatre was a very dynamic event that socially engaged with the lived reality of people at different positions within the social hierarchy. But Brecht also insisted on the transformative potential of theatre that did not solely engage with the world but worked towards changing it by developing individual and collective critical reflective capacity.

Does Brecht’s statement relate in any way to community theatre in how we understand it or could understand it?

The answer I believe is yes because as obvious as it might sound community theatre should be committed to the community in which it operates.

This commitment is about ensuring access, diversity and openness to the whole of the community to make community theatre a celebratory moment of encounter, sharing and creativity.

But this commitment is also about exploring and engaging with what feels like important issues to that community. It is about considering what matters and offering a space whereby emotions, thoughts and desires can be safely explored, transformed into a creative moment and shared with the rest of the community. This makes community theatre not solely a place of creative freedom and play, but also a place of social significance that supports debates and democratic vitality within the community.

Author: J. F. Jacques

dramatherapist, clinical supervisor, community theatre director, performance researcher