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From: Theatre for development – Footsteps 58

Using theatre to encourage understanding about different community issues

In the Nepalese language, aarohan means to climb – either up a mountain (in a country that has many of the highest mountains in the world) or onto a performing stage. Aarohan Street Theatre has been established for many years. It began performing on stage and later changed to street theatre. In Nepal, there is a tradition of open-air performances. Folk dances and theatre are performed with participation from the community. Street theatre is easily accepted by the people

Subject matter 

Aarohan has performed many plays on a wide variety of subjects, including the problems faced by deaf people, voting rights and democracy, the relationship between people and the environment, the importance of good sanitation, leprosy, family planning and forest conservation. Plays about corruption and political issues are more successful in the cities – while in the villages, plays about environment and leprosy are more appreciated.

Reaching the people 

Performances are usually staged for very large groups – as many as 2,500 to 3,000 people in the cities, fewer in the villages.

Nepalese people are hard to reach, especially outside the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal is a hilly country and transport to remote areas is very limited. Sometimes actors have to walk for many days. Few people have access to television, and the circulation of newspapers is low. Only radio has been growing steadily over the years, since a handful of community radio stations started operations.

Interactive theatre 

Recently, Aarohan has begun using kachahari. This is a kind of interactive theatre where the audience directs the play and determines the outcome of the performance. For example, Aarohan presented a play portraying a love story between a low-caste man and a high-caste woman. When it was performed in the villages, people ended up not wanting to let the actors leave the stage until they had made a happy end to the play. They wanted the two lovers to marry each other, despite caste differences. Such a play can be very powerful to the audience who participate in its development. Such theatre has also been used with ethnic groups on the theme of conflict resolution.

Areas of work 

There are three important areas of work for Aarohan Theatre:

Training new groups Training provides a way of expanding the use of drama to hundreds of villages that otherwise could not be reached. By regularly forming new groups, Aarohan multiplies the impact of using theatre to create community awareness and participation. Small groups of people are trained during one-day workshops. The training generally targets youth groups that have more time available. Workshops have been conducted in more than 40 districts, training local people, youth groups, children and community members, who select the subjects, prepare the plays, and participate as actors during the performances. Many drama groups trained over the years by Aarohan are still active and provide an informal network with enormous potential for social change.

Research for new plays Wherever staff members of Aarohan travel, they learn about local concerns, local music and any existing use of drama. A play is then written, including the local dramatic traditions and the present social setting.

Audience interaction Some plays encourage interaction with the audience during the performance. Discussions take place after every performance and are key to establishing if the communication process has been successful. This ensures that the messages have been correctly understood and passed on.

Constraints

At first, when the Aarohan team performed in remote areas of Nepal, the differences of language, culture and lifestyle were a real problem. Now, with their strategy of training local people, this difficulty has been solved. However, there is still a challenge to get the right style and content for each community.

Funding is always a concern for the actors. Limited funds to pay actors may prompt them look for other jobs.

There is always a risk that a play turns out to be either too superficial or too heavy on propaganda. Often, the development agencies sponsoring a play would like to see many messages crammed into it. Some actors also like to include too much entertainment during performances, thus weakening the messages. Sunil Pokharel, the Director, thinks there should be a balance of entertainment and education in every play.

Sunil Pokharel is the Director of Aarohan Street Theatre. Their work has been supported by a number of agencies, including UNDP, UNICEF, Save the Children, United Mission to Nepal, Nepal Leprosy Trust and the Danish Association for International Cooperation. Sunil’s address is: GPO Box 12819, Kathmandu, Nepal.
 

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