Thursday 29 December 2011

Embracing the Cultural Gap

One thing that my students and I will bring to Malawi to attempt to make the trip a more balanced practice exchange rather than just a bit of 'voluntourism' is our interactive play, incorporating forum & verbatim theatre techniques, that the students have been researching [and in the new term will begin devising] based on interviews with their family and friends on the subject of 'Gender Equality & Safer Sex in the UK.'

We hope to tour to three Teacher Training Colleges around Lilongwe with this show to present a UK view on gender equality & safer sex. Through the interactive performances in Malawi, we hope explore the cultural differences & similarities between the attitudes of young people from both countries.

The structure of the interactive performance will be to present the play, then facilitate touch tag interventions [similar to forum theatre] and then break into small groups for a hot-seating of the characters from the play where the audience & characters can ask any question of each other. From these three distinct parts of the performance, we hope to unearth any similarities and differences in approaches to safer sex & gender equality between the two cultures.

Questions that we want to ask through the interactive performance: How much behaviour will be recognized as similar by the Malawian audience of the performance? What can be learned from presenting a show based on attitudes within the United Kingdom to a Malawian audience? Can we articulate and embrace any cultural gaps that might appear rather than politely shying away from them?

We also want to explore two potential outcomes with this performance:

One, to see what might happen if you apply one set of cultural & gender expectations to another one. Our thesis is that a 'Cultural Gap' will emerge. If that is the case, then it will be our duty to embrace this gap rather than cover it up and run away from it. We want to face it head on and see what happens – what drama can be created out of these interactions?

The second, to see if an 'ideal' culture be created based on taking the best of the Malawian culture and the best from the British culture. In our time & space in the moment of performance, can we explore what positive behaviours are ‘missing’ from each culture and then create one that take from both to create something ideal?

We go to Malawi knowing full well that we don't have any of the ‘answers’ and we are not going to 'teach' anyone anything. All we can do is bring ourselves fully open to the possibility of change within our selves & others based on our interactions. We know that the United Kingdom certainly isn't an exemplary country when it comes to gender equality and safer sex [just note the rising rate of HIV & teenage birth rates in this country and the call for & response of the 'Slut Walks' that occurred earlier this year as three glaring examples of what we still have not gotten 'right']. But our hope is that by bringing together two very different cultures and exploring issues that are often not publicly explored, we hope to create an understanding between the two and also positively change our own behaviour through this process.

Finalizing the Trip

We have now finalized our dates in Malawi. We will there from the end of April to mid May 2012. We are once again staying at the excellent Mabuya Camp backpackers and flying Ethiopian Airlines.

There will be 11 students and myself going to Malawi. The plan is to participate in workshops with Theatre for a Change, perform our verbatim / forum play, make a variety of visits throughout Lilongwe and deliver drama workshops to schools and communities.

I am looking forward to starting this term at St. Mary's as we will formally begin the Theatre for Development module. We will have a variety of visiting lecturers this term including experts on HIV, Alistair Milne [SMUC's head technician] to deliver a workshop in health & safety and Patrick Young, the director of Theatre for a Change.