Aesthetic justice and communal theatre : a new conceptual approach to the community play as an aspect of theatre for empowerment
This study re-conceptualises the community play as an aspect of contemporary British theatre. In the context of the idea of an arts entitlement which has two components, participation and enjoyment, it examines three antecedents to current practice. These are: theatre and empowerment, which looks at the work of Brecht and Boal on conceptions of the audience; outreach work, which examines the de-mystification of art by looking at the relationship between theatre and education and community arts, which focuses on harnessing the creative potential of ordinary people. The lines of development which link these three areas to the community play are investigated. The history and origins of the form are outlined and Ann Jellicoe's work with the Colway Theatre Trust is examined. The study offers a new conceptual vocabulary for the analysis of community playmaking which has three principal terms: aesthetic materialism - a development of Marxist principles as they relate to a consideration of the aesthetic circumstances of the people; aesthetic justice - an application of Beardsley's concept to contemporary society and current theatre practice; and communal theatre - a new term developed as a result of this study which clarifies the differences between participation and collaboration in the making of community theatre. These three concepts are united by their relationship to the rejection of bourgeois control of cultural capital which underpins the investigative stance of the study. Contemporary society is characterised by the study as aesthetically unjust and the main questions it asks relate the search for aesthetic justice to the developing form of the community play. The theoretical investigations of the study are contextualized by fieldwork which consisted of a participant observation case study of the community department of the Belgrade theatre, Coventry. This spanned two years and focused on the 1992 Coventry community play Diamonds in the Dust. The study concludes with a comparison of the main forms of participatory theatre in the 1990s which offers a means of identifying the heuristic value of the various models of community playmaking with respect to their potential for empowerment and contribution to aesthetic justice. The implications of the study are that the participatory element of the arts entitlement needs to be strengthened into true collaboration between the professionals and the non-professionals involved in order to ensure equality of access to, and popular control of, the cultural capital which is symbolised by the community play. Communal theatre projects of this sort are assessed as being able to promote the kind of shared experience which is necessary for the development of a more aesthetically just society.